Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman
Publisher: Transworld Digital
Publishing Date: 16th April 2020
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!
Number of pages: 288
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
Have you ever wondered if you love your dog better than your spouse?
Or what happened to the last ten years?
Life hasn’t gone according to Judy’s plan. Her career as a children’s book author has taken an embarrassing nose dive. Her teenage son Teddy treats her with a combination of mortification and indifference. Her best friend is dying. And her husband, Gary, has become a pot-addled ‘snackologist’ who she can’t afford to divorce. On top of it all, she has a painfully ironic job writing articles for a self-help website—a poor fit for someone seemingly incapable of helping herself.
Gleefully irreverant and genuinely touching, Separation Anxiety is a novel that celebrates the ‘squeezed generation’; a book filled with heart and humour for anyone fumbling their way towards happiness.
It’s six minutes to morning meeting and the tapping of the peace gong, and of course we’re late. I hustle Teddy— almost taller than me, a bedhead of brown curls, and giant sneakers still untied— into the car on this sharply bright October morning, then tear down the street, looking like a Jules Feiffer sketch of modern frantic parenthood with my giant hair and furrowed worry- brow behind the wheel. I’m going to have to explain and apologize to Mr. Noah and his aggressively annoying Montessori man bun that it’s my fault, not Teddy’s,for being tardy on this day, especially on this day. The school seemed perfect for Teddy when he’d started in second grade after a few disastrous years at the nearby public school, but a month into seventh grade— in their newly formed middle school, only in its second year with none of the kinks worked out— it doesn’t seem to be the best place for him now.
Even though we’re late, I can’t help indulging in my daily habit on the drive to school:the Inventory of Other Houses, when I ogle all the well- maintained homes along our route thatbelong to other people. Ours, with its peeling shingles and broken gutters, is becoming the shabbiest on the block.
Five minutes to morning meeting and the tapping of the
When Gary and I first moved to Cambridge, still in our late thirties with Teddy about to be born, full of stupid youthful optimism, fantasies of block parties and progressive dinners and neighbourhood yard sales played in my head. I wanted community, and connection, and a sense of belonging. I wanted to carve pumpkins and drink eggnog and complain about shovelling snow, then extol the virtues of the miraculous New England
spring. Not anymore. That openness is long gone. I’ve moved from outgoing young mother and children’s book writer to invisible middle- aged content- generator and dog- wearer. An irreversible trajectory, I’m sure of it. If only I could have squeezed out another book before writer’s block set in, Gary and I would have enough money to separate like normal couples instead of having to live in the same house and pretend for Teddy’s sake.
Four minutes to morning meeting and the tapping of the
I look at Teddy sitting next to me in the front passenger seat— because he is old enough to sit there now— I can’t remember the last time he sat in the back— and wonder again as I so often have since the transparency of childhood and boyhood gave way to this— this brutal teenage opacity— what he is thinking. I don’t ask anymore and he never tells me. Every day I try to square the fact that I don’t know, can’t know, will never again know everything crossing his mind the minute it crosses it the way I used to because he used to tell me— trains, dinosaurs, baseball, LEGOs, skateboards, chicken,pizza, chips— but doesn’t anymore.
Three minutes to morning meeting and the tapping of the
Steering around parked cars and oncoming traffic, the inventory continues: I compare shingles and shutters and lawns and fences to our disintegrating ones. That morning I’m especially tweaked by an ever- expanding three- story addition going up in the back of an already massive turreted single- familyVictorian. I’m sure that the people moving in, whoever they are, still sleep in the same room, in the same bed; still earn livings and have savings; still plan for the future the way normal people do, though I know that my childish presumptions could be wrong: you never know what people’s lives are really like.
It’s the day I’m scheduled to talk to Teddy’s class about writing, answering some of Mr. Noah’s questions about what it’s like to make books (fun to write and draw them; less fun to publish and promote them): how cool it was to have an animated seriesbased on one of my books (extremely cool).
One minute to morning meeting and the tapping of the
I know Teddy had hoped I’d cancel, that something else would come up at the very last second the way it used to whenhe was small— the calls from my mother when she was outof pain medication; from my father when he mixed up night and day again; when it was time for hospice for both of them. He’d gotten used to plans changing suddenly; from the bottom dropping out; from occasionally being picked up by someone else’s parents and eating at another family’s dinner table. He’d always looked so pained when I’d had to leave him, which wasn’t actually that often, since I took him almost everywhere with me, like I do now with the dog— and since working from
home allowed us to spend a lot of time together. Then at some point he came to like it: being somewhere else. The relief of it. I think of all that he’d seen those years before he was even ten: the hospital beds, the infusion rooms, the home nurses coming and going from my parents’ house while I tried to distract him with bigger and bigger LEGO sets— and I wish againthat we could get a do- over for that whole phase of his life. It hardly
seems fair, so much precious time lost.
One minute past morning meeting and the tapping of the
“I know. You’re dying that I’m coming in today,” I say, elbowing him. I keep my eyes on the road, desperate for the laugh track from the old days of his boyhood, but as always now there is just silence, then a protracted sigh with a word at the end:
I push past the awkwardness, even though I know that trying too hard and showing my desperation to stay relevant will only make things worse. “But that’s the deal with your school: parents help out.” His eye- roll doesn’t stop me. “It’s a cooperative independent school”— I say the words slowly, because I can’t take my hands off the wheel to pump my usual air quotes— “so when a teacher asks you to come in and teach their class for them because they’re too lazy to,” I add, unable to stop myself from editorializing, “you’re not supposed to say no.”
“Mr. Noah isn’t too lazy to teach.”
I forget how loyal he is, how kind and generous to othershe’s always been.
“You’re right. It’s not laziness. He just needs extra time to manscape his goatee.”
“Mom. Stop.” He looks at me finally. “You don’t have to come, you know. Jackson’s mom and Gavin’s mom and Robert’s mom couldn’t come. I can just say you’re too busy. It’s no big deal.” He looks out the window again, away from me to somewhere else.
I blink and feel the sudden sting of tears. “But I want to come.” The sentence is a repentant whisper that leaves me confused: Why, when I miss my little boy so much, am I pushing away what’s left of him? “Dude. I was just kidding.” I’m begging now. Like plate tectonics, something inside me is finallycracking and shifting. Melting. “I want to come. I really do.”
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