It’s never wrong to do too much for your kids, right?
The over-anxious parent has been documented quite widely in nonfiction over the past decade, but British comic author O’Farrell (This Is Your Life, 2004, etc.) takes on this unseemly phenomenon from a fiction angle. While he doesn’t turn these demanding drill sergeants into the monsters often depicted in tut-tutting magazine articles, neither does he try hard to humanize them. Narrator Alice is, to put it mildly, an overprotective mom. Concerned about the cars that come roaring down her fashionable London street at all hours, she decides to teach the drivers a lesson by crafting a crude mockup of a child, putting it on a stick, and then shoving it in front of an oncoming vehicle. Several smashed vehicles, a visit from the local constabulary, and one chagrined husband later, Alice is far from learning her lesson. See, it’s time to get wee Molly into Chelsea College, the best school around, only Molly doesn’t like to do homework. So Alice does what any self-respecting parent would do: She dresses up as a spotty-faced kid and takes the entrance exam herself. Moral qualms are temporarily swept away by Alice’s drive to have the very best for her surely exceptional child. (She couldn’t possibly be average: Alice and her fellow mothers shudder at the very suggestion of non-exceptionalism.) Unfortunately for Alice, her slumbering conscience comes roaring to life when she meets Ruby, the very nice African girl from the housing estate who would have gotten a scholarship to Chelsea had Alice not aced the test for Molly. O’Farrell has trouble keeping his plot going at times, and some sections drag, but his unerring eye for the classism, racism and monstrous egoism propelling these middle-class mini-dictators more than makes up for it.
When this satire bites, it hurts.