WHY KILL A SAINT? MOTHERS AND AUTHORS, by Art Smukler MD

The saint I’m referring to is Theresa Belmont, my main character’s mother (In Chasing Backwards). The anger towards “the saint” is one of the novel’s driving forces. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about that anger, but most of the time I just accept it — no problems. Sometimes I even enjoy it.

One of my favorite author’s, Pat Conroy, is a genius when it comes to mothers. In Prince of Tides, his opening lines in the first chapter are awesome.

“It’s your mother,” Sallie said, returning from the phone.

“Tell her I’m dead,” I pleaded. “please tell her I died last week, and you’ve been too busy to call.”

“Please speak to her, she says it’s urgent.”

“She always says it’s urgent. It’s never urgent when she says it’s urgent.”

How can there be such anger towards someone so important? She gave us life and had ultimate power over our ability to survive. We weren’t like little colts who stand immediately after birth. Without intense care, we wouldn’t make it. And it gets even more complicated. In this breast driven society, the image of suckling at your mother’s breast is horrifying to most men (I don’t think women see it exactly that way). Yet horrifying as it may be, from puberty on, our fantasies of breasts and all parts of female anatomy are common obsessions (very pleasant obsessions).

Ambivalence, a combination of love and hate, are common feelings towards dear old mom. There’s no way that anyone can be perfect, including mothers. It’s not possible.

For a writer, the essence of great fiction is conflict. Ambivalence is wonderful! Loving and hating the same person is what it’s all about. It happens in our fiction and it happens in our lives. Wiggling out of impossible, conflictual situations, makes great reading and gives us a chance to learn how we can deal with the difficult problems that present in our own lives.

Thanks, Mom.