Jump at the Sun, Kim McLarin, HarperCollins Publishers, 2006, 306 pp
Kim McLarin has been called "one of the bravest novelists in recent times" by someone at the Philadelphia Tribune. The translation of that is, she writes about subjects that are real but that people don't talk about because it is embarrassing. In Jump at the Sun, she is brave because Grace, the main character, is having serious issues about being a stay-at-home mom with her two daughters, a pre-schooler and a toddler.
Sure enough, it was embarrassing to read, because I had the same sort of issues when my sons were little and I still have them with my grandchildren. Spending long hours with small children as the only adult leaves me irritable and longing to get away. I dealt with it when my sons were little by having a car and a large circle of friends who were in the same boat, but the winters in Michigan were long nonetheless.
Grace lives in Boston (worse winters there) and in the kind of modern suburb where you don't know your neighbors. She is highly educated and extremely intelligent; has been a professor for several years before having children. But as all mothers of young children know, intelligence and education are of virtually no use when penned up in the nursery.
Grace also has, as all women do, a mother and a grandmother, who have passed on the legacy of being conflicted about child-raising and mothering. As you read, you learn in the chapters of back-story, that Grace's grandmother was from a Southern sharecropping family and chronically abandoned her children. Grace's mother did the opposite and gave up her own life and happiness to take care of the kids, but never let those kids forget it.
At some point in my life, I realized how certain behaviors in my family had been passed down through the generations. I resolved that I would not do that to my kids, but it was more easily resolved than carried out. It is the same for Grace. The sense of conflict Grace experiences is so well portrayed that it got inside of me and stirred up all those feelings again.
I can't say that this novel made me feel good--too close to home. But I admire McClarin for creating the story and I understood that intelligence and education are very possibly keys to resolving this very fundamental conflict for women in today's society. Because most women also do truly love their children and want to raise them to be happy and responsible adults.