The Man Who Loved Children: A Novel Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2017-06-17 
Review Score: 3 out of 5 star From 54 user ratings

"The most accurate and horrifyingly mesmerizing portrait of narcissistic parenting I've ever read. I qualify this as a genius novel at the level of Gaddis or John Gardner. But more earthy, more disturbingly grounded than other post-modern tomes. It is the very realism of this that makes this book so difficult to take your eyes off of. The Pollits could be any dysfunctional family, except they are The Dysfunctional Family to end all dysfunctional families. The lack of redemption, the relentless descent of a family into emotional and financial wreckage could be called a lack of balance on the part of Stead. Oh but hell, everyone loves reality TV, which is nothing but relentlessly real. No but really, that shit is cooked up, contrived, horrifyingly plastic, soullessly dysfunctional. This, on the other hand, is the real, real, the down and dirty real, and I sure am guilty of rubber necking! " said.

"Book by an Australian author is set in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. The characters are a family of arguing parents Sam and Henny. In about a decade, the warring twosome has managed to bear about seven children and to bring into the household Sam's stepdaughter Louie. Sam and Henny are complete opposites in their thinking for Sam is an idealistic eccentric dreamer about the goodness of men and about the just rewards allotted to each person in life, but also scientific minded and undaunted; Henny is a former society woman of a self-made father and a realist driven by daily necessity to see to the family's needs. In the setting during the mid-1930s, the U.S. is still climbing out of the Great Depression, and Roosevelt has set out the second New Deal. For the Pollit family and some of their neighbors, economic security is at a low ebb. Despite the spacious squalor they come to inhabit in a sprawling old house and orchard by a river, Sam has taken charge of the several boys and two girls to improve the place while Henny and Louie manage the household and meals and come up with the means because such matters don't concern Sam. The story has great character studies; everything seems exaggerated from hot temperaments to high intelligence. Besides Sam and the children's improving the physical aspects of the grounds, the characters are ripe with imagination. Language inventions in made-up names, in Sam's baby-like, theatrical drawl, in Sam's and Louie's recitation of literature and in Louie's playwriting, storytelling, and poetry show the evolved state of characters' minds. This highly entertaining story in many parts manages to reach tragic proportions before lifting itself up once again in those who remain. " said.

"Why did I not know? How could it be? Stead, or at least this book, ranks with or above the other "all style, little to no story" masters/masterpieces of the century, right there with Joyce, Gass, and White. Her prose might actually be denser than theirs, her commitment to the sentence deeper.

MWLC is a flawed book in only one way: the first 100+ pages are molasses slow, and to little obvious purpose. The whole thing is repetitive, but the first fifth. Oh boy. The repetition in the rest is earned; the first fifth is, I regret, dull. But much better that way than, as with Gass's 'Tunnel', White's 'Vivisector' or Joyce's everything, sticking the boring bits in the middle or end.

And Stead does much better than those esteemed gents at giving you some reason to keep reading, other than art for art's sake. Nobody will ever care whether Stephen and Bloom meet, but here I (at least) really wanted to know how this idiotic family would finally implode.

As with White (who blurbs this edition), Stead is perfect at dysfunctional relationships between individuals; unlike him, she can write about more than one person in any given scene. Like him, she traffics in dualities; but whereas his are abstract and philosophical, hers are rooted in history. Here, Henrietta (conservatism and aristocracy, but in the good way) faces off against Sam (progressive, but in the bad white-man-will-save-the-world way). It's a great portrait of early twentieth century American ideas.

And her rants are often better than Gass's. Consider, if nothing else, Henrietta on suicide:

"There are so many ways to kill yourself, they're just old-fashioned with their permanganate: do you think I'd take permanganate? I wouldn't want to burn my insides out and live to tell teh tale as well; itiots! It's simple. I'd drown myself. Why not put your head in a gas oven? They say it doesn't smell so bad..."

It continues for a page and a half, as she decides how she would, and wouldn't kill herself. It's glorious stuff.
" said.

" This is clearly a kind of masterpiece. A masterpiece of a portrait of gaslighting, maybe? But it's also annoying as hell. ~5% of this book is in this familial baby talk language that FEELS just absolutely disgusting to me, but which clangs true in the way the father uses it to suffocate attention that's anywhere but on him. " said.

"This Aussie classic has been on my tbr forever! It’s Aussie in the sense that the author is Australian but the book is actually set in Washington & Baltimore areas. Unfortunately, not a book that enchanted my heart… a horrible marriage between 2 people unwilling to work together, to compromise as life partners. A horrific pulling to and fro of the children between the parents. I didn’t like the wife/mother as she is a weakling however at least she seems to be who she is but the husband, all charms and goodness (or so it seems) but such a child (as was pointed out a number of times in the novel, unwilling to grow) and his made up words used throughout the novel nearly killed me. I & my husband, of course, have some made up words we use with the kids when they are tiny but NOT whole sentences and a full conversation of them. I knew as well that things will NOT end well though the ending wasn’t really what I expected. My inability to enjoy this book was probably made worse as I was also listening to an audiobook where the husband killed his wife (true crime!); she was leaving him after 2 decades of marriage to escape his controlling & rather violent nature. I say ‘NO’ to domestic violence!" said.

" brill book. felt like i was watching a film in my mind. u can almost smell that marlin oil near the shocking ending. nice twist. " said.

"This was unbearable. The story of the most miserable marriage ever. I hadn't read an older book in a while, and I had heard it was an amazing classic, so I gave it a try. But this was not the book for me. At first I thought it was going to be funny. Christina Stead is a wonderful wordsmith. The writing style is a little like A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, in which the writer delights in unusual words, building up word pictures like sand castles in torrents of phrases. But the misery just overcame me midway through. It's hard to decide whom to hate more: the vicious, selfish, spoiled wife Henny who sees the world through shit-colored glasses, abuses her children (and especially her stepdaughter) and whines constantly about her come-down in life of having married a self-made made man. Or her husband who is manipulative, inappropriately needy and whiny with his children, blathers on fatuously about the joys of life and children, and basically just does whatever he wants the whole time. Argh." said.

"Perhaps I was naive to be so shocked by this grotesque 1940s tale of chaos and family dysfunction set in D.C. Baltimore heiress Henrietta Collyer is married off to a zany, hardscrabble conservationist named Sam Pollit -- and what follows is an explosively unhappy (if high-yielding) marriage. I'll be damned if almost every page didn't made me cringe: the father's narcissism, the mother's hysteria, the sheer filth of their encroaching poverty, the childrens' constant suffering and neglect. It about wore me out.

I picked up this book after reading this review by Jonathan Franzen in the NYT. And though the plot bobbed along slowly as trash in the Anacostia, it provided time for me to think about its greatest theme: the entrapment of its women characters by incessant pregnancy, spinsterhood, poverty,and psychological torment.
" said.

July 2017 New Book:

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