Mothers and Other Monsters

Posted by : atcampbell | On : February 4, 2008

Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen F. McHugh

Seven people attended this meeting at the North Village library. Our topic was Mothers and Other Monsters, a recent collection by Austin writer Maureen F. McHugh. Six of us had read McHugh before. We all started the book, and three of us finished.

Several stories stood out. “The Lincoln Train,” set during the Civil War, was moving and effective as it examined prejudice. “The Cost to Be Wise,” a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when one civilization gives another too much help, hit many of us. It reminded one person of real-world situations in Africa. “Ancestor Money” was an intriguing look at the afterlife. And “Frankenstein’s Daughter,” about parents who have a hard time letting go of a deceased child, is deeply disturbing.

Most of the stories in this book are about families: parents bringing up difficult children, older folks losing their mental faculties and being tended by relatives, young people making peace with the ghosts of dead relatives. Several of us related strongly to the family elements of these stories. Dogs and China also appear as recurring themes.

We all appreciate McHugh’s writing style. It’s clear, efficient, and does not call attention to itself. Her storytelling skills make it easy for the reader to be swept up in a story and pulled into the head of the protagonist. The writers in our group went through a technical analysis of McHugh’s technique.

A couple of readers complained that the stories in this book are generally quite depressing, and it was difficult to read a whole book full of such stories in a short time. Several of us found that we had to spread out reading this book over several days.

We talked about the genre and packaging of the book. We generally felt the cover design and blurbs were intended to make this collection look like a mainstream book. While most of the stories are science fiction, a couple of them are just fiction. However one personal commented that even the stories with no speculative fiction component have a genre feel.

Overall we found this to be a book full of well-written and emotionally effective stories. After the meeting, we had a nice dinner at Fuddrucker’s.

—A. T. Campbell, III