What's for Lunch?
APRIL 13, 1998:
In reading Marion Winik's latest, I am reminded of a critique
I once aimed at Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s Breakfast of Champions. As I read his
simple observations of the life of an Indianapolis loser, I kept repeating a sneering
mantra of "No shit, Vonnegut." It was as if the guy had succumbed to the
dumbing down of America, not through an intellectual perversity, but because he had
no choice. By the end of the book I was saying the same thing but my smirk had turned
The Lunch-Box Chronicles: Notes From the Parenting Underground (Pantheon,
$22.95 hard) picks up with Winik's life as a single mother of two young boys after
the death of her husband Tony. In brief chapters (which I'm sure she's used or will
use for her NPR commentaries) she regales us with tales of love and terror in the
mommy zone. These snapshots (penseés, mini-memoirs?) are by turns sincere, glib,
self-pitying, hilarious, defensive, self-deprecating, proud, banal, and brilliant.
As thoroughly as she has become a Jeep-driving, golf-playing soccer mom, one still
imagines the dark-haired Winik wearing cut-offs and a Sex Pistols T-shirt while offering
acerbic encouragement on the sidelines that probably gets more than a few raised
eyebrows pointed her way.
Still she is at her best talking about her old demons, those of sex and death
and fear. Though Winik claims to be searching for the truth, what she is learning
and what she reveals in this gift of a book is that there are many truths, each as
elusive and slippery as the mystery of childhood itself.
Despite the subtitle, Winik is far from being queen of the underground. For all
her wonders, she is utterly, wondrously middle class. Though she seems to be oblivious
to this, a reader can't help but find her endearing. So forget the underground -
she's better. She is a very human mother who aches to her bones to do the right thing
for her boys, knowing all the while that no matter what she does they will never
truly know who she is nor will she truly know them.
What she does know and what we are left with in this paean to a mother's love
is that beyond the stories, the loving words Winik wraps around her experiences with
Vince and Hayes as if to hold them in an eternal moment, the true gift is the gift
the boys give to her everyday, a gift beyond words and beyond the economics of love.
You're Freud's good enough mother, Marion. And that's more than good enough. No
shit. - Ric Williams
Ric Williams (46? Could that be right?) is father to Ramona (4 3/4) and Kady (8 1/3) and husband to Christy (don't even ask).