Tag Archives: parent’s worst nightmare

More Thoughts on ‘Parents’ Worst Nightmare Books’

I read this post by Tracy Grant on The Washington Post‘s Momspeak blog yesterday about bestselling books that mirror some of the ‘what-if’ fears that parents often have. It reminded me of the post I wrote last month about “parents’ worst nightmare books” that cover themes that scare the hell out of parents: kidnapping, kids committing violent crimes, sexual abuse of kids, kids doing drugs, etc.

Grant has an explanation for why some of these books become bestsellers:

They mirror back to us the fears we have as parents, especially the fears for our teenagers. Intellectually, we know they will probably be okay. We’ve given them the advantages of good schools, carpools, extracurricular activities. We know their friends, their friends’ parents. Our kids are good kids, we say. Part affirmation. Part furtive prayer.

But then something like Columbine or Trayvon happens, and we feel — perhaps irrationally but no less honestly — that our perfectly constructed lives teeter on a razor’s edge.

We don’t want to look, but we can’t help ourselves.

She makes a great point. It’s the voyeur in us, the one who whispers, “Thank god that’s not happening to me”, who devours these books. There’s even a name for this genre: “domestic thrillers”.

I haven’t read any of the books she mentions, but they seem to cover some of the same topics as the ones I linked to in my post.


Parent’s Worst Nightmare Books

I just started a new book (The Good Father by Noah Hawley), and as I’ve been reading it, I keep thinking, “Wow, this is every parent’s worst nightmare.” This is a common theme among a lot of memorable books I’ve read. Whether it’s kids disappearing, committing violent acts, becoming addicted to drugs, or losing themselves in sex or other destructive behavior, these plots have cropped up again and again in my reading.

Here are the ones that come to mind:

  • We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – this is by far the pinnacle of Parent’s Worst Nightmare books, for lots of reasons. I probably think about this book once a day. (difficult son is school shooter)
  • Cost by Roxana Robinson (son addicted to heroin)
  • A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein and Trespass by Valerie Martin (sons get involved with “undesirable” women, often with destructive consequences for parents and their relationship)
  • Breaking Her Fall by Stephen Goodwin (daughter performs sex acts at high school party; father goes ballistic)
  • Goldengrove by Francine Prose (daughter drowns)
  • I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman (daughter abducted)
  • Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan, The Local News by Miriam Gershow, and The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond (disappearing kids)

These books are so disturbing that sometimes I wonder why I read them. They bring on all kinds of fears and anxiety. But they are also intense and deeply involving reads, which is of course why we read in the first place, right?

What are your Parent’s Worst Nightmare picks?