Author: Lauren Liebenberg
I read Lauren Liebenberg’s deliciously-named, The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam many years ago. I enjoyed it immensely and had been looking forward to reading her third book, Cry Baby. It is a story of an upper middle class couple, living in the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg raising their two young boys – one of whom has terrifying nightmares that have an otherworldly significance to them. The author’s point of view changes from that of the two adults to that of the little boy throughout the book.
There is the father, Michael, a banker frustrated with his job and his daily commute, accepting yet despondent about his middle-class existence in the suburbs. There is a palpable frustration with his life that the author writes of it extremely well. Grace, the mother’s point of view is that of a former career woman now turned stay-at-home mom . She now does the mummy run – driving her kids to school, extra-curriculars, and navigating her way around the playground and parking lot politics of stay-at-home moms. There is an equal discontent in her, made worse by the constant worry about her son’s nightmares. The author describes the younger son’s nightmares well enough to draw the reader into his terror. The parents have tried all interventions – all of which have been put down to behavioural problems. They dismiss their domestic helper’s advice that they seek alternative forms of treatment, as she believes their son’s nightmares display more than a hint of the supernatural.
It is only after an incident that sees their son accidentally overdosing on his mother’s prescription anti-depressants that the parents discover that he has a brain tumour, that has been the cause of his difficult behaviour and nightmares. The incident leaves the parents reassessing their lives, their discontent and their desire for a more fulfilled life. They give up their neat suburban lives in Johannesburg to move to Zimbabwe – to a life that could not be more different from their current.
It is here that the family goes to heal. It is also here that Grace learns that Sam’s nightmares of the ‘blonde dream girl’ are those of her aunt who died when she was six years old of a brain aneurysm, finally making that supernatural link that the author hints at throughout the book.
Liebenberg’s book is a combination of a mother’s dealing with her discontent in her current role; a father’s frustration with his having settled for an ordinary life; and a family’s rediscovery of themselves outside their ordinary suburban lives.
The reality of the suburban life and the competition of the perfect moms was all too familiar to me. Lauren Liebenberg, in her satirical look at this life was spot on. I chuckled in many places and nodded in agreement in most. She does a great job writing describing this world, and I am certain many mothers in South Africa living this world can relate, or at least cringe a bit on the accuracy of it all.