The story comes closer to reality when it dramatises something wider: the performance of an enviable lifestyle, and the various miseries that make this performance possible. In this the book speaks beyond parenthood – we have all, one way or another, curated our baguettes. A conversation between Erika and another wife is beautifully emptied. “She would say something nice about E and I would thank her. I would laugh once or twice and compliment the rug.” Later, Erika competes with other self-interested women in the supermarket. “We all, each one of us specifically, needed the best berries with which to feed our very special children.” The avocados, however, are too ripe. “We recoiled.” I wonder how a novel might bear this new, bleak, distinctly maternal humour, without wheeling out the gallows.
As the novel's breathless sentences spiral out of control, little is stated explicitly — M's job, for instance — generating a haziness that feels true to the narrator's state of mind, as if we're glimpsing events through strobe-lit fog.
But Wilder can't quite sidestep the pitfall of how to make mental illness dramatic without being exploitative.
In the end, you can't help but feel that the subject is more important than the book's treatment of it.