Me and My Electra Complex
“I’m sorry, but I don’t feel strongly enough about your mother’s book to do a blurb for it,” writes my author friend.
You’d think I’d feel disappointed. I’d given my friend two new books: a copy of my just-released novel (The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg) at my book launch party and an advance reading copy of my mother, Edna Robinson’s, novel (The Trouble With the Truth), written in 1958, edited and doctored by me in 2013, and released in February 2015 as the debut novel from Infinite Words, a new imprint of Simon & Schuster.
My mother is dead and I own the rights to her novel, so it’s my book. I had suggested to my author friend that she might actually prefer my mother’s book to Zelda McFigg because the writing style is more similar to hers, but I was wrong; she raved about Zelda McFigg and offered an unsolicited blurb, but she turned down The Trouble with the Truth.
My first uncensored reaction to this rejection: I win! My friend likes my book better than Mom’s. Yippee!
But almost concurrent with this competitive glee is such a queasy shame that I blush all alone in front of my computer. I must reveal this to no one. And that’s when the more acceptable feeling of disappointment comes: Damn, no blurb for Mom’s book, and it’s such a good book! I’m bummed.
Before my book launch party, I obsessed for days. I was doing the event to celebrate the publication of my second novel. “This is your moment,” said my friends. “Enjoy it.” But I had just received gorgeous galleys of Mom’s book. I’d worked really hard to get it published, and, though she’s been dead since 1990, I felt I should share the moment with her. But every time I thought about how to promote two books simultaneously, I went catatonic.
I’d tried to avoid this collision of bounty. But my book was late and, no, Infinite Words would not choose a later pub date for Mom’s book because they wanted to launch the imprint with it! I’m not insane, so I said thank you and I shut up.
Mom’s book had needed a lot of work. One of the biggest problems was a lack of development of subtextual emotions—namely, jealousy. The Trouble with the Truth is the story of an old father and his two young children in the 1930s. Mom, who adored her own mother, wrote a story with only a good father. The mother in this family dies in childbirth. And for the entire story, the first-person narrator, Lucresse Briard, grapples with the jealousy she feels toward her brother. Undeveloped in the original manuscript was the revelation that Lucresse was jealous of her father’s affection for her brother. (Hence, the need for doctoring.)
Jealousy. A writhing, green, tentacled monster that we like to believe stays hidden, squashed up in our guts. Jung called mine the Electra Complex—a daughter’s desire to kill off her mother in order to have the love of her father. Acknowledged, it makes great dramas. Denied, it wreaks all manner of dysfunctional families and flat stories.
When I googled “daughters jealous of mothers,” I got more than 800,000 results, and most of them seemed to be about jealous mothers with titles such as “The Reasons Mothers Secretly Hate Their Daughters,” “When a Mother’s Pride Turns to Envy,” and “The Rivalry that Dare Not Speak Its Name.” Yes, I’m sure my mother was jealous, but she’s dead, and I want to fess up.
The last and only time I remember unabashedly having this feeling was when I was five years old. My father was standing in his bedroom dressed in a spiffy seersucker suit and, suddenly overwhelmed with longing, I declared, “You are the handsomest man in the world. Will you marry me when I grow up?” He looked at me sweetly and explained that he couldn’t do that because he was already married to Mommy, who was watching this scene with tears in her eyes. “Why not!” I wailed. “Why won’t you marry me?!” And I felt as if I might explode from the injustice.
So, with secret delight in having won the most attention, I email my author friend: “No problem. Thanks for your honesty and the Zelda blurb.”
The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg is a funny novel about an extremely flawed woman with no shame of admitting just about anything. She runs away from her drunk mother and absent father when she is fourteen and never looks back. So, although I am certainly not Zelda and had a wonderful adult relationship with my mother, I killed off my mother too. It made for a rich and honest story, and I'm sure Edna would understand . . . and maybe even be jealous of the fact that the book won an award—Black Lawrence Press' Big Moose Prize—and a lot of advance praise.
P.S. Recently, The Trouble with the Truth received a starred review from Booklist. Apparently, once acknowledged, the writhing, green monster not only makes good dramas, but it inconspicuously and covertly morphs into a big fat mother/daughter combo in a party hat; Edna and I celebrate.