May 20, 2018

8 of the Worst Moms in Literature

Think your mother was harsh? These books will convince you that she deserves a Mother of the Year Award.

By Tina Jordan and Susan Ellingwood

It’s Mother’s Day. You’ve sent the flowers, the card and even the box of chocolates. You’ve also just paid another therapist’s bill. But c’mon she wasn’t that bad a mother. If you want to see bad, take a look at these eight books, rife with screamers, abusers and not-so-benign neglecters. Of course, they are all creatures of fiction, but you get the point.

Margaret White

‘Carrie,’ by Stephen King

“Her mother is a horror: a religious fanatic eager to beat the goodness of Christ into sinners with a powerful right hand.”

Mrs. Lisbon

‘The Virgin Suicides,’ by Jeffrey Eugenides

The five Lisbon daughters live “under the thumb of their domineering mother,” a woman “who never allows them to date, and who insists they wear baggy, ridiculous clothes. Though their ineffectual father seems vaguely sympathetic to their plight, he never stands up to their tyrannical mother.” When one of them breaks curfew, “the girls are permanently grounded. They are pulled out of school and locked in the house.”


‘Housekeeping,’ by Marilynne Robinson

Ruth and Lucille, raised by a succession of indifferent relatives, “were quite small when their mother left them, with a box of graham crackers, on the porch in Fingerbone. ‘At last,’ Ruth says, ‘we slid from her lap like one of those magazines full of responsible opinion about discipline and balanced meals.’”


‘Push,’ by Sapphire

“At the age of 16, Claireece, or ‘Precious’ as she calls herself, has already had two children by the man she knows as her father. Her mother has not only allowed these rapes to occur, but also beats Precious for stealing her man. She, too, sexually abuses Precious, and treats her as a maidservant around the house.”


‘White Oleander,’ by Janet Fitch

Astrid’s mother is in prison — she’s murdered her boyfriend — but Astrid “will continually measure herself against the standards of her mother’s beauty and fearlessness (and find herself lacking) while at the same time learning to hate her mother for her selfishness, her cruelty and her ability to manipulate and charm.”

Adele August

‘Anywhere but Here,’ by Mona Simpson

“‘We fought’ are the first words of Simpson’s challenging first novel about a mother-daughter road-trip. “‘Fought’ is an understated reference for the war of words, wills and fists that rages between them from the first to last page.”

Janice Angstrom

‘Rabbit, Run,’ by John Updike

“Rabbit” Angstrom’s wife, Janice — often found “highball in hand, glued to the television set” — drunkenly allows their infant daughter to drown in the tub.

Sophie Portnoy

‘Portnoy’s Complaint,’ by Philip Roth

“His mother, Sophie, cleans up after the maid, worries endlessly about what goes into Alex and what comes out of him, and exists to protect him from gentiles and manhood.”

© 2018 The New York Times Company.

In Brian De Palma's 1976 thriller "Carrie" — the first of Stephen King's novels to be made into a movie — Carrie's mother, played by Piper Laurie, certainly had her hands full with her daughter, played by Sissy Spacek. But she could have been a bit more understanding of Carrie's supernatural powers. Don't you think?CreditUnited Artists

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