In Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother, Lauren Slater tackles the tough stuff of life from deciding whether or not to have a kid – and then another kid – to dealing with depression to watching her husband catch fire. Her stories were entertaining and insightful while ringing true to anyone who has ever suffered from a mental illness, and anyone who has ever questioned whether or not “playing house” was the right choice for their lives.
However, while I would consider this an interesting read, it was by no means what I expected, nor was it particularly well-crafted. From the title, I expected Slater’s stories to center around her home life, especially her children. I expected some ridiculous and quippy stories about her children and her relationship to those children. As with most “mother” books, I expected some sort of moral or message to come out of it all – probably that becoming a mother was the right choice for her, despite her misgivings.
While some of that was present in the book, most of the chapters dealt with her depression and how she dealt with it. While I understand that her depression made her choice to be a mother, and her subsequent filling of her motherhood role, a difficult one, her domestic life did not grace even half of the pages of the book. I don’t think this is bad, per se, but I would want the book to be more aptly titled, then, so the reader could know what he or she was getting.
Furthermore, I do not believe the book was particularly well-crafted. Her prose, at times, felt forced. Her metaphors were over-extended. In one breath, she says she despises cliches, yet they rear their ugly heads in almost every chapter of the book. It seems as if she is trying to take her reader on a journey with flowing, poetic writing, but that only serves to pull the reader out of her world and into a world of figurative language. Like most English teachers, I enjoy figurative language when tastefully done, but this seemed to be overkill.
On top of that, Slater referenced much of her past life without giving her reader any back story. She mentions leaving her home for a foster home, several lawsuits brought against her, a friend who completely abandons her, and many other events that would be ripe for a good story, but then just leaves them there in lonely sentences, never to be explained or expanded. Because of this, I was always left wanting more, and left feeling as if I should have been reading other books of hers or her blog (if she has one) first. Or, I felt as if she felt she was famous enough that everyone should know all of her back stories. I have no idea who she is, so that assumption seemed egotistical at best, and bad form at worst. Furthermore, each chapter of this book read like a separate blog post, some occurring in real time, some in the past; some referencing “now,” and others referencing posts written earlier that we should have read. I’m a purist when it comes to books: Unless books exist in a clearly defined series (and even then, back story should be explained), each book an author writes should be able to stand on its own. I shouldn’t be expected to research or read outside of the book to get the whole picture of what the author is talking about. And if a book is based on someone’s blog, which this one appeared to be, it’s the duty of the author to edit those posts into book-worthy writing that is cohesive and understandable.
All in all, I would probably not recommend this book to many people unless you’re looking for a quick memoir or you’re familiar with her writing.