Last week a 48-year-old British mother had a book published about her adolescent son, Jake, and how he became a disruptive, drug-taking boor whom she and her husband threw out of their home at the age of 17. Welcome to the latest publishing phenomenon — the misery mum-oir. Julie Myerson is a successful author who has written about her children extensively and intimately since they were born. Her latest book, The Lost Child, catalogues “a traumatic three years in which Jake turns from a brilliant boy destined for A-stars and Oxbridge to a menacing, aggressive unmanageable drug-user”, says London Times writer Janice Turner. Asked how publishing such stuff could make his life better, his mother says: “You have to write the book you have to write. I write with a piece of my heart that I don't really have full control over.” Which, of course does not answer the question about why one would publish it. Would a mother do this just for the money?
Perhaps not. The book — not the first in which she has exposed members of her family — is also a bid for sympathy. As Spiked writer Mick Hume puts it: “It looks like the logical extension of powerful trends that have come to the fore across our cultural life in recent times. There is the confessional culture, in which emoting openly about personal problems is always deemed the healthy option, and the job of the writer is often seen as erasing the line between public and private lives. And there is the victim culture, in which one gains public recognition for personal suffering, and where it seems all must have deep wounds, emotional if not physical. Mix these poisonous trends together in a strong cocktail, and you can end up with a successful couple making a virtue out of publicly blaming their child for their problems.”
More than that, Myerson’s attitude is a form in infantilism. As Hume further notes: “The misery memoir is essentially about adults blaming their life’s problems on their parents and on their childhood experiences. The misery mum-oir, in blaming a child for wrecking the parents’ lives, looks like another more perverse form of abdicating adult responsibility.” Turner puts her finger on the problem like this: “There is something not quite maternal about Julie Myerson's relationship with her son: as if she almost seeks to be his peer.”
Anyone can have an adolescent child go off the rails and start experimenting with skunk — the powerful and destructive type of marijuana that Jake uses. But wouldn’t a normal parent feel just a teensy bit responsible for how the boy had turned out?