Barbara and Steve Almond Discuss The Monster Within

What do you do when your mother writes a book about maternal ambivalence, which then receives a rave review in The New Yorker? After “smash[ing] your head against the wall three times,” you interview her, as The Rumpus’s Steve Almond did, to get to the bottom of why she decided to write about “women’s fears of giving birth to monsters.”

Here’s an excerpt from Steve Almond’s interview with UC Press author Barbara Almond:

Rumpus: There’s such a remarkable range of cultural touchstones in the book, everything from literary novels (Beloved, The Tin Drum, The Fifth Child) to blockbuster movies (Aliens, Rosemary’s Baby) to pop culture figures (Brooke Shields, the Octomom). How did you balance all these elements?

Mother: I didn’t try to balance all the elements.  I actually wanted to use more literary material than I did, and it took me a while to be willing to write about patients (albeit in a disguised form) and even longer than that to write about myself.  I designed a trajectory for the book – from good to not so good to very bad (in terms of maternal ambivalence) and fit in the examples as they seemed relevant.

Rumpus: You raised us back in the sixties and seventies. But you’ve also been a careful observer of how mothering has evolved. What are the big differences you see in cultural attitudes toward mothering, between back then and now?

Mother: First of all, when you and your brothers were born, feminism was hot stuff. Going to work was considered admirable, and staying home with children was somewhat devalued, unless you didn’t do it full-time. There has been a big change in that balance in the past 40 years. Motherhood has become somewhat overvalued. Not that it isn’t crucial to the survival of humanity, but the rules, pressures, convictions are often draconian and, I think, very hard on mothers. And not so easy on children, either.

Read the full interview at The Rumpus.