The state of modern U.S. motherhood is ‘Maxed Out’

“Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink” by Katrina Alcorn. Seal Press, 2013. $16.

I read this book in between cooking dinner; returning work emails; discussing vacation plans with my husband; giving the baby her bottle; nagging the preschooler to eat, shower WITH SOAP, dry off and put on clean pajamas (in that order, please and thank you); feeding the dogs and cats and making jelly from muscadines a co-worker brought me.

I didn’t consider myself on the brink then or now, but Alcorn’s book did make me take a seriously hard look at how stretched my time was and why it was so darn important to make that jelly.

Through her own experiences with motherhood, anxiety and depression, Alcorn examines the state of the American mother and finds her quite frequently harried, bullied and, above all else, judged. Her appearance, her life choices, her career, her values, her systems — every single thing Mom does — all of them are judged, most frequently by other mothers.

This book is a fascinating look at what drives the average American mom and why we sometimes are our own worst enemy. A good read for any mom trying to juggle family, work and jelly.

— Beth Colvin,

“Amor and Psycho” by Carolyn Cooke. Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. $24.95.

“Amor and Psycho” collects eleven stories, some new and others previously published.

All stories in the book share common themes, most obviously love and psychology, but also family, lingering illness, decay, sex and transformation.

The language and situations presented are often purposefully uncomfortable, but Cooke’s honed diction and descriptive abilities beautifully portray both the nicer and uglier aspects of her works.

Her stories are best when concretely describing characters or their daily lives. In particular, her female protagonists are meticulously presented regardless of age, history, or health.

The more abstract of her works, however, can be confusing. For instance, “She Bites” mostly describes the building of a doghouse for a wife supposedly transforming into a dog but does not explain why or how said transformation is taking place.

Overall, this collection will please fans of excellent prose and character-focused pieces.

— Elizabeth Sanders, Gonzales

“Truth in Advertising” by John Kenney. Touchstone, 2013. $24.99

Finbar Dolan, a copywriter for a New York advertising agency, lacks personal and professional direction in life. Like Mad Men’s Don Draper, Fin had a traumatic and painful childhood.

Fin’s professional break seems to come when his ad team is assigned to create the next big Super Bowl commercial.

But family intervenes when Fin gets a phone call that his estranged father is dying and none of his siblings are willing to see the man who caused so much pain.

Not understanding his reasons, Fin goes to his dying father for his final days.

In the aftermath of his father’s death, Fin begins to unravel how his avoidance of his past has influenced the choices he has made and forgiveness seems his only option for healing.

Though a bit formulaic, Kenney’s debut novel is both witty and sad. As a former New York copywriter he presents a hilarious and cynical take on the advertising world while also illustrating the pain and damage caused by familial dysfunction.

— Laura Acosta, Baton Rouge