In these dense and startling stories, Maya Sonenberg telescopes seasons, decades, and generations in candid depictions of women’s family lives.
What happens when the urge to ditch your family outpaces the desire to love them? The stories in Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters, winner of the Richard Sullivan Prize in Short Fiction, attempt to answer this question, heading straight for the messiness of domestic relationships and the constraints society places on women as they navigate their obligations. Daughters desert their rheumy-eyed elders in dusty museums, steal a mother’s favorite teacup, or consider throwing their dead parents’ nostalgia-riddled belongings out the window. Mothers conclude that they love one child more than their others. Fathers puzzle over a wife’s inability to balance family and career or accuse a partner of blaming their child for her own misdeeds. Women mourn the children they decided not to have and fret over the legacy they’ll leave the children they do have. But sometimes the generations reconcile or siblings manage to rescue each other. Love tears these people apart, but it mends them too.
The emotions expressed in these stories are combustible, both fraught and nuanced, uncontrollable and common, but above all often ignored or hushed because we’re not supposed to be bored by our children or annoyed with our aged parents, even as we love them. The careful shapes of these stories adapted from fairy tales, verse, letters, or newspaper announcements, the surprise of their wordplay, and the blaze of their lyrical sentences allow them to dig into and contain all those messy emotions at the same time. In these works, constraint creates both understanding and fire.
2. Pink Seascape
3. Dark Season
4. Four Phoebes
5. Moon Child
7. The Cathedral is a Mouth
8. Return of the Media Five
9. The Other Road
10. Painting Time
11. Hunters and Gatherers
12. The Arches, Our Home
13. Six Views of Seattle
17. On Seeing the Skeleton of a Whale….
18. Princess of Desire
19. Bad Mother: A Story in Five Paragraphs
20. Seven Little Stories about 1977
21. Last Week, New Year
22. Inebriate of Air
Maya Sonenberg is professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Washington. Her previous collections of short stories include Cartographies (winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize) and Voices from the Blue Hotel. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Fairy Tale Review, Web Conjunctions, DIAGRAM, New Ohio Review, The Literarian, Hotel Amerika, and elsewhere.
“The luminous sentences that comprise Maya Sonenberg’s Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters house one surprise after another, never landing where the reader expects linguistically, narratologically, or existentially. They delineate quietly broken lives and unhurried regret in fictions that exist within beautiful clouds of ontological static.” —Lance Olsen, author of Skin Elegies
“Written with humor and spirit, this lively assembly of protean fictions takes us from castle to carwash via an anxious activist, a frazzled painter, a pickle maker, an exemplary whale, and the always illuminating chimpanzee.” —Rikki Ducornet, author of Trafik
“Maya Sonenberg’s witchy and yet touchingly vulnerable characters bring to mind the ‘bad’ mothers and daughters of Lispector, tinted with shades of the Brothers Grimm.“ —Barbara Browning, author of The Gift
"Maya Sonenberg’s contemporary tales are alive with the pulse of the mythic, and her fairy stories brim with all the light and longing of the everyday. These visions of mothers and daughters—broken, breaking, seeking, striving—stick in the mind even as they open the heart. What a powerful, gorgeous collection." —Jedediah Berry, author of The Manual of Detection
"I loved the stories in Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters with my whole heart, thrilled by their intuitive leaps of imaginative logic, their celebrations of wonder and surprise, and their centering of the unbridled wildness of the mind. Maya Sonenberg has given me exactly the kind of gift I want from a collection of stories: precisely made, gorgeously rendered worlds, each so inventive that it suggests there's always even more magic waiting beyond its margins. I know I will visit these stories again, and that next time they will transport me even further into wonder." —Matt Bell, author of Appleseed
"Maya Sonenberg's Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters is a revelation of fairy tale and form. In gorgeous, clear prose, evoking a playful range of settings—seascape to castle to hospital room to Seattle landmark—Sonenberg irreverently questions the loaded roles of child and parent, of princess and witch, of caretaker and abandoner, all the while piercing the wonders of both our natural world and our labyrinthe hearts." —Sharma Shields, author of The Cassandra and The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac
"Sonenberg subverts the expected rhythm of short stories. Instead of focusing on plot, she focuses on meaning, with infallibly chosen details that reach past the brain and into the soul. . . . The short stories of Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters are written with such beauty and empathy that each conjures a heartfelt sigh." —Foreword Reviews (Starred Review)
“Maya Sonenberg’s stories are nimble, witty, and unafraid of delving into the domestic grotesque via the sticky tendrils of the fairy tale. Whale skeletons and scorpions intermingle with gluten-free cake and boom boxes, as she miraculously transforms, again and again, drudgery and heartbreak into something expansive, something exuberant, something that cracks open the mundane to reveal the magic of bloody shoes, lost sisters, the game of solitaire that remakes the world into something so bright you can’t turn away from it, no matter how much it might burn.” —Tina May Hall, author of The Physics of Everyday Objects and winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize
"Sonenberg’s Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters slashes through the thickets of form and convention with its feral and graceful stories, its resonant and wise voice, and its candid portrayal of women who resist the strictures of family, obligation, and duty." —Chicago Review of Books
"While Maya Sonenberg’s new short story collection, Bad Mothers Bad Daughters, contains many fairy tale elements such as evil queens, poisoned fruits, and the hero’s quest to portray the complicated and even Grimm (sorry) or painful relationships between mothers and daughters, the writer keeps it real by mixing in modern day themes like sexism while casting bits of absurdist humor over the pages to keep her readers enchanted." —Tupelo Quarterly
"The economy and focus of Sonenberg’s prose allow the stories to punch above their weight in this slim volume. Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters is a beautiful collection of complex pieces which deserves and rewards prolonged consideration." —Heavy Feather Review
Richard Sullivan Prize in Short Fiction
Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award: Short Stories, Silver Medal