I had been suffering a little too much from the ‘shoulds’ lately. It is a condition in which you are overly aware of all that the external world thinks you should or should not do. It extends to your house, your family, your occupation. I find schools are great breeding grounds for ‘shoulds’, and I cannot tell if I am alone in questioning them. A very sociable friend of mine alarmed me a couple of years ago when she told me that she does not interact with any of the other parents at school. Now I think I understand (I have not been overly sociable either, but I am an unsociable sort). I keep feeling as though I did not buy the instruction book that tells us how we should bring up our children, and I am not sure that I would follow the instructions if I did have such a book. There are people who seem to think there is only one right way, and that all the other ways are wrong. I enjoyed ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ simply because the generalizations demonstrated there were at least two right ways of bringing up children who will turn out okay.
Anyway, it was a relief for me to read ‘Model Home’, by Eric Puchner (2010). For me, it was about a family of people who were obeying the ‘shoulds’. The father had taken the risks in real estate, had the great idea and followed it, just as so many magazine articles and such recommend we do. He had given his family the life he thought they deserved by having them live in some luxury development that he could not afford at the time of the move. The mother was attractive in just the right way (I am grateful that was not overemphasised – there was a book I abandonned simply because I had had more than enough of every female character being so attractive that there could be no person inside them), and she had worthy employment making educational films. The eldest son is of friendly attractive appearance with the obligatory girlfriend whose limits he respects, but he is bothered by his appearance as he does not feel so friendly on the inside. The teenage daughter sounds fairly normal, but has been dropped into an environment of California beach types, so feels out of place. She fills a stereotype, as does the youngest son, who is meant to be just plain weird. However, although these people fulfil the shoulds of stereotypes and media messages, life does not go well for them. The book does not end in disaster, but it does not end well (let alone super-well, as happens in some best sellers). It is a bit like a Dorothy Whipple novel in that way. Life is always a little more uncomfortable at the end than at the beginning. I also liked the connectivity of events. With any negative incident, there was a web of incidents that led to it, and it was impossible to apportion blame, even on the father for his poor choice in investment, given the way such behaviour is encouraged.
I laughed when I read the questions for book club members at the end of the book. In one question, they asked: ‘Which character did you identify the most with, and why?’ I did not identify with any of them. Except to feel that sometimes life dumps things on us, and that small choices can have consequences out of proportion with the choices, and these people were as much victims of that as anyone else can be.
It was a good book for alleviating the pressure of those ‘shoulds’.