Monday, May 30, 2011

On Cannibal Moms and Little Girls (and Boys) Under Glass

     Back in 1995, along with much of the world, I was transfixed by the widely publicized case of Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who murdered her two young sons by rolling her Mazda into a lake with the boys strapped inside. Smith gained notoriety by claiming that a black man had carjacked her vehicle and taken her sons, but after going on television to plead for their safety, she eventually confessed that she'd killed them, in part to free herself up to be with a wealthy local man who had no use for a 'ready-made family.'
      The story both horrified and fascinated me. How could any mother commit so callous and brutal a murder? What must those last terrible moments have been like for her children? And had they sensed, during their tragically short lives, that their mother was capable of becoming their deadly enemy?
      When I was invited to write a story for Richard Laymon's anthology BAD NEWS, I thought of the Smith case and decided to use a theme I've visited before--the 'Medea' mother, the cannibal mom who consumes her offspring without a flicker of remorse because they are, after all, an extension of herself and she may do with them what she likes. I felt I could do such a story justice, in part, because I know a little bit about narcissistic parenting myself.
     My own mother was a "southern bell' who came from humble origins. She married late in life for those times, but oh, what a marriage she made, leaping up the social ladder many rungs at a time when she snared my father, scion to a North Carolina tobacco family. As often happens, though, things didn't quite work out according to her plans. A marriage finally took place, a child arrived, but my father lasted only a few years before taking off. Eventually, he remarried--to yet another narcissistic belle, (but that's another story). My mother's fury at this final abandonment was terrifying and much of that cold rage fell on me--it was made clear that the failure of the marriage had been my failure, too. All contact with my father was forbidden because "if you have any love for me, you couldn't possibly want anything to do with that man."
     From the vantage point of my current life, of course, I see the enormous stress my mother was under, having invested everything in a marital project that proved a resounding failure. Having lost what she desired most, she clutched onto what was left. In "Girl Under Glass," Allison's mother does the same--in a submerged car filling up with water, she grips her daughter's arm.
      Thankfully, few narcissistic parents go to the extreme of murder/suicide. Most of them just kill their children's spirits. But for anyone who's ever existed behind the glass wall of a controlling person's ego, who's viewed the world from the perspective of a child prisoner, crashing through into the light of life is a formidable experience, never to be forgotten, never to be taken for granted.
     From that perspective, I like to think "Girl Under Glass" is an escape thriller with a really happy ending.

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