cover image Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood's Messy Years

Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood's Messy Years

Catherine Newman. Little, Brown, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-316-33750-2

Parents might be hoping for a guide to making childhood less messy, but Newman (Waiting for Birdy) will assuredly convince them that chaos is actually the funniest thing that could possibly happen. When the author's two-year-old throws a tantrum because she can't remove her own fingers, anticipate feeling a combination of horror and nostalgia. Newman comes across as a cool and smart mom%E2%80%94most of the time%E2%80%94and her kids, Ben and Birdy, as adorable. Though the metaphor is both beautiful and cloying, she neatly captures the exact kind of anxiety that many parents possess: "First kids are so often sweltering inside a kind of worried parental greenhouse where they get clipped into odd, neurotic topiary children." The main criticism that can be lodged against this book falls into the same bag as a parental judgment: it's undoubtedly valid but not very useful. Readers almost certainly didn't need another parenting memoir, but this one is laugh-out-loud funny. Newman brings tears and laughter and truth to the inexplicable%E2%80%94like the demanding aimlessness of her children's stories%E2%80%94pairing some very effective anecdotes with the boredom, pride, disgust, and joy of child-rearing. Agent: Jennifer Gates, Zachary Schuster Harmsworth. (Apr.)