Sunday, July 14, 2013

Despicable mother

Sometimes, the people who can hurt us the most are the ones that we truly love. Or, at least, the ones who should supposedly love us. In Nancy Werlin's National Book Award-nominated novel, The Rules of Survival, the one who does the hurting is the mother, who is probably the most abusive, most hateful, most unstable matriarch that I've encountered in books.

The Rules of Survival is not an easy read. It made me uncomfortable while I was reading it the whole time. It's a young adult novel narrated by Matthew, a teenager living with his coke head of a mother named Nikki. Matthew has 2 younger sisters—Callie and Emmy, ages 11 and 5, respectively.

Matthew and his siblings have a difficult time coping with the presence of their mother. Nikki has no qualms whatsoever in hitting Matthew repeatedly or of driving on the wrong side of the road in a car with all her children just to get a thrill. I can never imaging a mother like that can actually exist. Who would ever want to physically and emotionally hurt their own children?

One day, Matthew encounters a man named Murdoch in a convenience store. Matthew is transfixed as he sees Murdoch stand up to that much bigger man in the store and stop him from hurting his kid. From that day onwards, Matthew vows that he'll look for Murdoch.
But Murdoch talked directly to the kid. "It's wrong for anybody ever to hurt you. No matter who does it, it's wrong. Can you remember that?" 
The kid's eyes were now huge. He looked at his father again. Then back at Murdoch. Then he nodded. 
"You'll remember that?" Murdoch insisted. "You don't have to do anything else. You just have to remember." [page 6]
The siblings do track Murdoch down, with the hope that he'll be their savior, their superhero. But, in some strange twist of fate, Murdoch becomes their mother's boyfriend. For the next 3 months, with Murdoch around, everything was relatively fine in their household. Then he breaks up with Nikki and everything spirals toward hell.

Nikki becomes more abusive to Matthew, Callie, and Emmy, especially when she finds out that Murdock has endeared himself to her children. She even went on a date with another man just so that she can ask him to kill Murdoch. It's very surreal. Is Nikki even for real? In this f****d up world, I do believe that there are people who just make everything messy for everybody else.

But The Rules of Survival is Matthew's story, and it is he who steps up to the plate. All his life, he has protected his 2 younger sisters and he doubles his efforts now that Nikki is seemingly spiralling out of control. He asks the help of Murdoch, reconnects with his father, and becomes instrumental in making Nikki's sister, their Aunt Bobbie, finally muster up her fear and ultimately help her nephew and nieces.

In several levels, The Rules of Survival is a coming-of-age tale. Matthew realizes that things will never just work things out, as most people say to him, and that something concrete has to be done. He also accepts that he did think of killing his mother had Murdoch not intercepted him. And finally, Matthew becomes determined to survive. Because after all, it is the survivors who get to tell their story.

Read this book if:
  1. You're a survivor yourself.
  2. You don't cringe from some of the harsh realities of life.
  3. You know that superheroes don't have to wear costumes.


Kaz said...

Hmmmm - sounds like an interesting read. I'll track it down, when I'm able to cope with something that has more substance than my current reading (if you saw my most recent post...).

Do you remember my post on 'Floundering' by Romy Ash? Here's the link:
Similar themes, different setting. Also a tough read, and narrated by one of the children.

Good post, Peter!


Peter S. said...

Hi, Kaz! Thanks! I'll track that Ash book down too!

Louize Gonzales said...

Aw. Aren't parents suppose to be the unmasked heroes of everyday?

I'll hunt for this. I will be a challenge to my bravery. :)

Peter S. said...

It's a very challenging read indeed, Louize!

Jack said...

I'll pass on this; my mom wasn't that thrilling herself, although she did have the common decency to abandon me to grandparents before we got to know each other too well.

I'm just making the rounds to tell my friends (that it applies to) that I have linked you on my story site, ~ I'm going to carry links to sites I'm fond of that have content posted within the last week, so you stand to be a pretty regular resident on that particular list. Hopefully, you'll pick up some more traffic from it, but you have to be patient, I'm just getting started!


Peter S. said...

Hello, Jack! Thanks for the backlink! I'll update your link too.



Peter S. said...

It's a very satisfying read, Winzton!

Ryan said...

Matthew sounds like a hero to me.