Unraveled by Maria Housden
Family, marriage and suburbia are the backdrop for this uplifting lesson in liberation, postponing parenthood, and living by example.
In the aptly titled Unraveled, we see Barbie’s Dream House slowly erode into Overlook Hotel as the seemingly perfect family comes undone, thread by thread.
The slow descent and realistic recovery is largely what makes the book worthy of busy parents-especially those experiencing marital or existential crisis. Most marriages disintegrate from 1,000 small razor cuts, not one big knife wound. People stay longer than they should because the Hollywood Big Rupture (catching a partner cheating, being threatened with violence etc…) is the exception not the rule. Ambivalence thrives when it isn’t obvious the bad (fights, criticism, silent resentment) outweighs the good (affection, shared history, comfort, familiarity). By chronicling everyday incidents of love and conflict, and reflecting on them with an honest assessment of her own culpability—and a surprisingly restrained description of her husband’s limitations—Ms. Housden’s readers will find plenty to relate to.
At the outset, Ms. Housden comes across as insecure versions of Martha Stewart, Phylis Schafly and June Cleaver. From the outside, an immaculate suburban home, a dutiful wife, a good provider husband, and a cherubic child—throw in some tupperware parties and a radio playing “Wives and Lovers” and it could be 1951. She delights in motherhood, which seems to come quite naturally: giving birth without drugs, breastfeeding, delighting in every moment with her son and her still-glowing-from-new-fatherhood husband.
Small minded neighborhood moms soon encroach, planting doubts subconsciously designed to instill conformity in both mom and child. Maria describes her shame after beign reprimanded for letting her son climb the stairs that morning.
My smile slid off my flushed cheeks as I took a sip of my tea to camouflage my embarrassment. Of course Ann was right! What had possessed me to allow Will to do something so foolish and unsafe? Closing my eyes briefly, I vowed to be more attentive to my child’s health and well-being. No matter how clean or well organized my house was, it couldn’t make up for the shame I now felt as a mother.
Perhaps her husband’s obsession with keeping up appearances is what they have in common. She notes his pride when telling friends and colleagues how quickly his wife bounced back after her son’s birth, by which he means how well she is both managing to raise her son, keep the house immaculate and work as a financial analyst. Sounds like they both bought into the Superwoman/Supermom myth.
As any mom without a full staff or a hedge-fund salary knows, the moment comes when you need to choose between keeping up an image or taking care of your children. And ultimately the honesty with which she faces that choice makes this read so compelling.