HarperTorch, $6.50, ISBN 0-06-109554-0
Contemporary Fiction, 1997 (Reissue)
Every maternal instinct rebelled when I actually admitted to myself that yes, I enjoyed reading this book. How else would I explain laughing out silly in an airplane trip from Sydney to Singapore and completely not noticing that the plane has landed until the nice lady stewardess gently nudged me back to earth? However, this is also a rather un-PC story of three really whiny, dysfunctional siblings exploiting their mother for their own gains. However, I doubt this story is meant to be taken seriously. I left my brains at the door, and I had fun. Lots of it.
Phyllis Geronomous married Ira because, as she told her later suitors, her maiden name is Phyllis Stein – she’d marry the first man that asked. Although Geronomous isn’t exactly a fancy name either. Now, at 70, she found herself stuck in a senior citizen colony in Florida. Ira had passed away, and she was lonely. So what better for a aging biddy with a nasty sense of humor than to return to New York and plague her estranged children?
The three siblings, Susan, Bruce, and Sharon cover all sorts of dysfunction between them. They are a shrink’s idea of paradise. Susan was once anorexic and now went by the much nicer name of Sigourney. She’s, however, facing massive downsizing and she’s in a bad relationship rut. At 42, she’s getting very insecure about her age. Bruce’s gay, wickedly witty, knows the names of all the designers in France, and is facing bankruptcy when the partner of his gay greeting card business absconded with all his money. Business isn’t doing well, if at all. Sharon has the middle-child syndrome, overweight, whiny, stuck in a rut, has a massive case of low self-esteem, and her hubby Barney’s a jerk. The last thing they need is Mom coming back into their lives.
“This is the end of the world as we know it, Bruce. How can we stop her?”
“Hmmm. How about plastic explosives in the cargo bay? We’d take down a lot of innocent lives, but we could know it was a small price to pay.”
Bruce was ever the loving son.
When they bicker over who would fetch her, Sharon’s gem of a thought is:
“Sig, she’ll never step into a limo. You know how she is about money. She’ll try to get all of her luggage onto a Fugazy bus. And she’ll have a stroke doing it. Then we’ll all have to nurse her.”
There was a long pause as all three siblings graphically imagined it.
Their fears are not unfounded. The first five minutes of loving family reunion has Mom Phyllis commenting that Sharon had gained weight.
“I always gained weight when I was sexually frustrated. Has Barney become completely impotent?”
There’s a insult for Bruce’s perfume as well as for Sig’s fashion sense.
The three siblings are, for once, in agreement. Mom has to go. To do that, they’d have to marry her off to a blind, dumb, deaf, dotty old man, preferably rich enough to solve their financial woes too. Operation Geezer Quest is underway. Sig will finance the situation, Sharon ferret out potential victims, and Bruce will give Phyllis a make-over.
Phyllis, however, do want to make up with her children, who she agrees to herself have been seriously neglected and without proper nurturing in their past. She wants to start anew with them, and at 70, she has nothing to lose by cooperating. When is the last time she saw her three children so amiable with each other? And if she falls in love with roguish old codger Monty while she’s at it, that’s an added bonus.
Now, Phyllis is really a fun character. Her wit is sharp, almost nasty. Cranky, cantankerous, and refuses to act her age, she hides a soft heart beneath her prickly exterior. My favorite scenes are where she completely overthrows Bruce’s composure by admitting that, hey, she knew he is gay ever since he was a teenager, and where she always put her foot down in funny ways whenever the kids go too far. This woman is no pushover despite her age.
She tells Bruce to get shackled with his boyfriend Todd. “Did I ever say it had to be a girl?” she said when Bruce started his “Not again Mom, I’m gay!” protests. “Gender, shmender. Look at your sisters. Definitely not a recommendation for my sex.”
About her views on divorce, “When I married your father, we married for life, Everyone did. Only movie stars got divorced, and even when they did, there was a scandal. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with divorce.” The last was for Sharon. “Some people need one. I wouldn’t discourage it.”
Mom really must go.
Despite the prickly, wicked exterior, Phyllis is actually a vulnerable woman who has never had any man or woman understand her until Monty. You want to read about senior citizens indulging in madcap courtship? Meet Monty and Phyllis. And the three children do love Mom, despite trying their hardest not to. Yes, they whine, but they whine in wickedly funny lines, especially Bruce. Into the scene comes handsome, dashing, fabulously rich Paul Cushing who Sig wants for Mom… no, herself… wait, for Mom… oh no. And there’s Bernard Krinz, a millionaire whom they want for Mom, only that he’s more interested in Bruce and Phyllis’s best friend and totally oblivious person Sylvia Katz who would have been a bag lady if not for her late husband’s wealth. All really ridiculous, stereotypical characters that are fun to read.
Everyone finds love, happiness, and joy at the end, which is at Christmas Day too, of course. You know what? Despite the whole not-too-wholesome premise of Exploiting… err, Marrying Mom, it isn’t bad. Not at all. It’s a farce, but it’s fun farce. Sometimes one has to sit back, let go of all notions of right and wrong, kick off the shoes, and have fun. This book is what that fellow should be reading then.