“Theroux possesses a fabulously nasty sense of humor.” — Stephen King, New York Times Book Review
To those in her Cape Cod town, Mother is an exemplar of piety, frugality, and hard work. To her husband and seven children, she is a selfish, petty tyrant. She excels at playing her offspring against each other. Her favorite, Angela, died in childbirth; only Angela really understands her, she tells the others. The others include the officious lawyer, Fred; the uproarious professor, Floyd; a pair of inseparable sisters whose devotion to Mother has consumed their lives; and JP, the narrator, a successful writer whose work she disparages. As she lives well past the age of one hundred, her brood struggles with and among themselves to shed her viselike hold on them.
Mother Land is a piercing portrait of how a parent’s narcissism impacts a family. While the particulars of his tale are unique, Paul Theroux encapsulates with acute clarity and wisdom a circumstance that is familiar to millions of readers.
“Paul Theroux ladles a steaming cup of dysfunctional-family chowder in Mother Land.” — Vanity Fair
“An engrossing, emotionally tangled and often merciless examination of family and self . . . Mother Land is a bittersweet, brutally frank family saga that offers enough redemption to make the journey worth it.” — Shelf Awareness
The diminutive matriarch of a large Catholic family is the powerful center of Theroux's engaging novel. Noted for including thinly disguised family and friends among the characters in his stories, Theroux creates an unsparing portrait of Mother, who has fostered malicious backbiting and animosity among her seven children. (The only "perfect" child was Angela, dead at birth, from whom Mother receives guidance in daily conversations.) The narrator, J.P. or Jay, is, like the author, the twice-divorced father of two sons with another son given up for adoption. A successful but financially struggling writer, he has tried to distance himself from his siblings, but the death of his elderly father has brought him back to what he calls Mother Land, the tyrannized clan on Cape Cod. Theroux's gifts for narrative drive and using darkly humorous descriptive details propel the plot through decades of the fractious lives of middle-aged siblings ceaselessly engaged in insults and rivalry to gain their mother's favor. Mother's 90th birthday party is the hilarious essence of family dysfunction. One of the novel's big surprises is an audacious ploy that revives an old scandal and mixes reality with fiction. The book includes text from a blistering review of a novel by the fictional Jay which is in fact taken from a real-life review of Paul's novel My Other Life by his brother Alexander Theroux. The effect is disorienting, if clever. As the pages turn, though, Theroux seems determined to describe every event during years of family discord, with the result that the novel is bloated with dramatic incident, and while each event provides a new spin on Mother's outrageous manipulation, readers may want Jay to grow up and leave his toxic family long before the end.