'New Yorker' writer finds a voice for 'cursing mommies'by Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — "New Yorker" writer Ian Frazier believes he's found a new literary voice. Well, maybe not new, but one until recently rarely heard in polite company.
Frazier calls the voice the "Cursing Mommy," and his new novel "The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days" lets that voice roar.
Frazier is known to many as a non-fiction writer. His book, "Great Plains," is a classic, as is "On the Rez" about life on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and "Travels in Siberia" which is the result of 20 years of journeys and study.
Frazier said it took much less time for him to write "The Cursing Mommy's Book Of Days." It's one of the fastest books he's ever written, he said.
"It feels lighter," Frazier said, sitting in a back room at Common Good Books on Sunday afternoon in St. Paul. "You are not sort of burdened by accuracy all the time. It's a horrible problem, accuracy. I'd like to dispense with it entirely. But you really can't."
That's because Frazier wears his humorist hat for "The Cursing Mommy." Even after 40 years at the New Yorker, there are fans of one style of his writing who don't even know about his other work, he said.
Frazier first created the "Cursing Mommy" for a column. She's a 40-ish suburban mother teetering on the edge of being overwhelmed by the realities of modern-life. The column included home-improvement tips which seldom work, which inevitably unleash a "Cursing Mommy" meltdown.
"She has kind of a hair-trigger," Frazier said. "And when things go wrong she will start to lose it, and then she will really lose it."
"Cursing Mommy" begins swearing: creatively, compulsively and at great length. There is a lot in her life which is upsetting. She has an unhelpful husband who invests their life savings with a shady archbishop in Nigeria. Her husband's boss has an unhealthy interest in her. Her two sons are also a problem. Frazier read a section from the novel about the older son, Trevor, at Common Good Books.
"He is just a horrible, wretched child, and I know it is wrong to say that about my own son, but he should be under police supervision all the time and I absolutely do not know what we are going to do with him. Trevor, honey, if you ever read this, please use words to express your reaction. Not hitting or knives."
"The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days" follows his heroine though an entire year of calamities and meltdowns.
Frazier has known a few real cursing mommies in his time, even growing up in Ohio. They had a neighbor who was trained as an opera singer, and everyone knew when she lost it because she could project her voice.
"In my childhood there were maybe two or three cursing mommies, really only in my neighborhood, one," Frazier said. "And now there are many. Our culture had changed."
The character is not a reflection on society's more casual attitudes to profanity however. She's the product of pressure.
Frazier says with ever-increasing strains on the middle classes, the need to care for children as well as parents, and the hectic pace of life there are more people who fit into the "Cursing Mommy" demographic.
"The fact is this is how we are now. This is how mothers are, many, many of them and it's a strange and interesting change," Frazier said. "In a way I can claim some documentary motivation or something like that. But basically it was just fun to write it."
As he has traveled the country reading the book Frazier's met them.
"Many people come up and say I am the 'Cursing Mommy.' Many people do. And I guess that makes me feel good," he said.
And they're not only women.
"I met a lot of men as a matter of fact, who have said that," Frazier said. "My wife has instructed me to say that I am the Cursing Mommy, not her, because she is by far the more level personality, more than I am. I'm the one who throws the tantrums."
Frazier is unsure what his next project will be, and is still waiting for something to seize him. The "Cursing Mommy" will be hard to beat, he told the bookstore audience.
"This is just typing curse words in capital letters," he told the laughing crowd. "I couldn't have found a better gig."
And it's clear the audience can't wait for more, cursing.
- All Things Considered, 11/12/2012, 5:54 p.m.