Lunch-box Chronicles

In reading Marion Winik's latest, I am reminded of a critique I once aimed at Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s Breakfast of Champions. As I read his simple observations of the life of an Indianapolis loser, I kept repeating a sneering mantra of "No shit, Vonnegut." It was as if the guy had succumbed to the dumbing down of America, not through an intellectual perversity, but because he had no choice. By the end of the book I was saying the same thing but my smirk had turned to reverence.

The Lunch-Box Chronicles: Notes From the Parenting Underground (Pantheon, $22.95 hard) picks up with Winik's life as a single mother of two young boys after the death of her husband Tony. In brief chapters (which I'm sure she's used or will use for her NPR commentaries) she regales us with tales of love and terror in the mommy zone. These snapshots (penseés, mini-memoirs?) are by turns sincere, glib, self-pitying, hilarious, defensive, self-deprecating, proud, banal, and brilliant. As thoroughly as she has become a Jeep-driving, golf-playing soccer mom, one still imagines the dark-haired Winik wearing cut-offs and a Sex Pistols T-shirt while offering acerbic encouragement on the sidelines that probably gets more than a few raised eyebrows pointed her way.

Still she is at her best talking about her old demons, those of sex and death and fear. Though Winik claims to be searching for the truth, what she is learning and what she reveals in this gift of a book is that there are many truths, each as elusive and slippery as the mystery of childhood itself.

Despite the subtitle, Winik is far from being queen of the underground. For all her wonders, she is utterly, wondrously middle class. Though she seems to be oblivious to this, a reader can't help but find her endearing. So forget the underground - she's better. She is a very human mother who aches to her bones to do the right thing for her boys, knowing all the while that no matter what she does they will never truly know who she is nor will she truly know them.

What she does know and what we are left with in this paean to a mother's love is that beyond the stories, the loving words Winik wraps around her experiences with Vince and Hayes as if to hold them in an eternal moment, the true gift is the gift the boys give to her everyday, a gift beyond words and beyond the economics of love.

You're Freud's good enough mother, Marion. And that's more than good enough. No shit. - Ric Williams

Ric Williams (46? Could that be right?) is father to Ramona (4 3/4 ) and Kady (8 1/3) and husband to Christy (don't even ask).

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