MOTHER'S HELPER by Maureen Freely
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A remarkable first novel which begins in high satiric hilarity and then gathers force and density to end in a sobering indictment of those who preach love and deliver desolation to the ones who need them most--their children. Object of the satire: the shibboleths, jargon, and modus vivendi of a disastrously hip academic couple in Massachusetts, Kay and Bob Pyle, as viewed by their ""mother's helper""--college freshman Laura. The Pyle household is a revelation to Laura, especially Children's Paradise, the ""vast grey"" room in the basement where four-year-old Nathaniel, six-year-old Bess, and slightly older Sarah can ""act out their aggressions without adult interference."" Not to mention intercoms in every room of the house--and a closet Think-Room for solitary ""constructive decision making."" As for the parents of these liberated kids. . . Kay is busy with her doctoral thesis on Children's Rights (when not rallying a repugnant group for a new fern-mag), and she is also busy with Martin, the grad student who will, Kay carefully explains to the children, be sleeping with her. (Matters like this are discussed in Family Council.) Meanwhile, nerd-ish Bob rages, crashes from a tree, and later takes a lover--mother of the black child whom Kay has imported to correct Sarah's racial confusions. And Laura herself gets in the swing: she has her first big sex with Dennis, a self-actualizer, when the kids lock them in the Think-Room. Throughout all this, of course, the children are spindled into the Iron Maiden of Kay's Utopia; are talked are relentlessly ""understood""--and even their play is invaded (Nathaniel has been ""discussed"" out of toy guns). Ultimately, the tone darkens--as Sarah, driven to some far secret corners, brings true terror to small Nathaniel, who will die alone. Freely rounds out caricatures into dismaying flesh, not only lashing out at the ""games of idiots,"" but framing the real anguish of exploited children. Savage, funny, and insidiously moving.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Delacorte