Review: The Good Mother by Sue Miller

Sue Miller’s The Good Mother is a great piece of jurisfiction.

Anna Dunlap splits up from her lawyer husband, Brian, with whom sex was a chore. She has custody of their three-year-old daughter, Molly. She moves to a new apartment, continues her work as a piano teacher and gets a part-time job training rats for a study at the university. She spends the rest of her time with Molly.

Then Anna meets Leo Cutter, an artist, and the two enjoy a passionate sexuality. Anna is overwhelmed by the relationship – and particularly all the great sex – and Molly’s needs occasionally become a second priority. Then Anna’s ex-husband sues for custody, claiming that Leo engaged in sexual activities with Molly. When Anna confronts Leo, she is horrified to discover that he once let Molly touch his penis when she asked, initially thinking he was simply answering her curious questions but then regretting his actions.  A psychologist appointed by the court reviews the case and concludes that the incident did not seriously harm Molly. However, the court experience dooms Anna’s love affair by, in effect, forcing her to choose between her lover and her child.

Miller’s beautifully written book highlights the good qualities of her flawed characters, drawing out our sympathy for them in spite of their poor choices. Her skillful description of scenes and events give readers a sense of complete engagement with the characters and the story. The lawyers, judges and courtroom scenes are very believable.

Miller succeeds in tackling a difficult theme – a mother’s sexuality – by showing all its different angles. She reveals the shades of grey in each character’s viewpoint; nothing is ever black and white.

My only complaint is Molly’s unrealistic precociousness. She never shows the sweetness I expect and look for, even in the beginning when Anna is totally devoted to her. She seemed the least believable of the characters.

I highly recommend this fascinating piece of jurisfiction.



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