The Golden Child
Can bad children happen to good mothers? A totally absorbing novel, for readers of Liane Moriarty, Lionel Shriver and Christos Tsiolkas.
Blogger Lizzy’s life is buzzing, happy, normal. Two gorgeous children, a handsome husband, destiny under control. For her real-life alter-ego Beth, things are unravelling. Tensions are simmering with her husband, mother-in-law and even her own mother. Her teenage daughters, once the objects of her existence, have moved beyond her grasp and one of them has shown signs of, well, thoughtlessness …
Then a classmate of one daughter is callously bullied and the finger of blame is pointed at Beth’s clever, beautiful child. Shattered, shamed and frightened, two families must negotiate worlds of cruelty they are totally ill-equipped for.
This is a novel that grapples with modern-day spectres of selfies, selfishness and cyberbullying. It plays with our fears of parenting, social media and Queen Bees, and it asks the question: just how well do you know your child?
WHO IS LIZZY?
Lizzy is an Aussie gal, formerly a journo, now a mother of two and ‘trailing spouse’, transported from the sunny shores of Sydney town to the colder climes of Somewhere, USA, via Elsewhere, Canada, and Overdaire, Ireland. She’s mostly enjoying the experience – even if it has left her feeling a little disoriented.
Writing this blog is a way to ensure that Lizzy’s communications skills stay honed. It also keeps her sane.
THE PARENTAL BOGEYMAN GOES TRICK-OR-TREATING
Surely, C insists, she’s old enough to go trick-or-treating without me. After all, she’ll be twelve in a few weeks. And twelve is a teenager, practically a grown-up. We’re on our front porch (where so many of these boundary-setting negotiations seem to take place), just about to join a small troop of neighbourhood kids as they head out into our tree-lined suburban street in search of treats.
Up until this year, Halloween has been a family affair: sometimes a school friend might join us, but usually it’s just been our little trio – C, her older sister, L, and me. D stays home, ready to appease any visiting demons with candy. This arrangement suits me – I’ve always found Halloween slightly disturbing, one of America’s stranger traditions. I mean, why would anyone choose to send their babies out alone on the one night of the year when the Hellmouth, as they call it in the Buffyverse, is most likely to be wide open? And frankly – those grinning pumpkins freak me out. That orange glow makes every house, even my own, seem sinister.
But this year is different: L is trick-or-treating with a friend, and C and I have planned to join up with the neighbourhood kids. It’s different in other ways too. Instead of the usual cutesy parent-approved outfit, this year C has devised her own Halloween costume. She’s a zombie: which means her face is plastered white, her undead eyes have been blackened, and there are frighteningly lifelike gashes of red at her temple and around her mouth. She’s rather terrifying to behold.
‘It’s lame, you coming,’ she says. ‘Everyone else gets to go on their own, without their parents. Every year. And they’ve all survived.’
‘So far,’ I say darkly, trying hard not to think of all the possible ways they might not survive.
The look she gives me is murderous (admittedly her emotional range is limited), and she stamps down the stairs and out the gate. I follow slowly, clutching my pumpkin-shaped bucket, my devil’s ears headband, the little red tail that clips onto my jeans pocket.
I Google on my phone as I walk: At what age should children trick-or treat without an adult? One mother with the same worries as me – and a few others I hadn’t considered – volunteers online that she reluctantly let her eleven-year-old out alone, conceding that the constantly hovering parent may be the biggest bogeyman of all. I swallow my anxiety. By the time I meet C, who has joined the small tribe of monsters gathered at the park across the road, I’m almost ready to give in.
One of my neighbours, a grade-school teacher with three kids, all younger than C, waits with them in the gloom. Her T-shirt is embossed with a luminous skeleton; her hairclips are shaped like witches’ hats. ‘Are you going with them?’ I ask, hopeful.
‘Oh, no.’ She looks shocked. ‘They’d hate that. Parents worry too much.’ I nod, give a weak smile, think about abductions, LSD-laced Twinkies, paedophiles. Guns.
‘Actually,’ her son, a boy aged around ten who is dressed as Captain America, pipes up, ‘some really gruesome stuff has happened to kids at Halloween.’
‘Oh?’ I try not to sound too interested.
‘We had to write about the meaning of Halloween at school, and I found this cool site with all the Halloween murders on it. There’s heaps and heaps,’ he smiles with ghoulish enthusiasm. ‘One time all these girls were kidnapped, and there was this kid that was shot. But the best one was this dad who actually poisoned his own kid. He put cyanide in all the kids’ Pixy Stix, but his son was the only one who died, which was actually what he wanted because then he could get the life insurance.’ Captain America shudders with delight.
His mother beams. ‘Jackson just loves his history.’ She pats him on the head proudly.
‘So,’ says C, clearly reassured by this conversational turn, ‘you’re not coming, right? I can go on my own?’
I mutter, look vague.
The captain’s mother gives a cheery wave. ‘Off you go, then. Be good.’ She offers me a smile, heads back across the road.
I wait until she’s tripping up the stairs to her orange-lit porch, then pick up my bucket, clip on my tail, straighten my ears. Parental bogeyman? There are worse disguises.
ISBN 10: 1460752376
Imprint: Commercial Women’s Fiction – AU
On Sale: 23/01/2017
Books + Publishing
"an engaging and intimate read that will appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty and Jodi Picoult, with nods to Lionel Shriver and Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. It’s highly recommended…"
The Golden Child:
A Conversation with Wendy James
The Golden Child in one (long) Sentence
The Golden Child is a confronting inquiry into our most profoundly held beliefs about nature and nurture, and the redemptive power of mother love; it’s the story of two women’s heart-breaking realisation that there are no guarantees when it comes to motherhood….
What was your inspiration for the novel?
One of the big questions that inspired the novel was not just the ‘what if’ of your own child being the victim of bullying, but the other side of the question – what if your conscientiously reared, greatly beloved child was the bully? The Golden Child looks at what must be a parents’ worst nightmare – a social media induced suicide attempt – and looks at it from every angle.
I also wanted to explore the way social media seems to encourage people to present their lives, and their selves, as perfect – middle-aged women just as much as teenagers. The way Beth presents her life is a confection that’s completely at odds with what’s really going on.
Does the book reflect your personal experience?
Some of the ideas and experiences that The Golden Child deals with are, of course, personal. I’ve experienced both the pleasure and pain of raising teenage daughters (and sons) and this has fed into the work. The novel was influenced by many of my friends’ stories, too. As any parent of a teenager knows, we’re constantly discussing our anxieties about our kids: about the job we’re doing raising them; about whether they’re happy, whether they’re good; whether they have too much or too little; whether they’re going to get good marks, get into uni, make that team. It’s endless.
Lately the stakes have been raised, with social media adding to the complexity and intensity – sometimes with tragic consequences. When it comes to our children, I think we’re all floundering in this brave new world – from controlling screen time, to ensuring our children are safe from predators.
Why focus on the bully?
I’ve often wondered – when hearing my childrens’ side of whatever drama they happen to be involved in – what they’re NOT telling me. Are they really the bad guy? What if I was actually the mother of the bully? What would I do about it? How defensive would I become? How would I rationalise it? How would it affect my relationship with my child? With other mothers? And how would it change my personal mothering ‘narrative’? We’re always pleased to take some of the credit when our children are good or do well, but what happens if they’re bad?
Is this book a crime novel?
Crime isn’t just something that happens out there to other people. It happens to, and is perpetrated by, people who on the outside seem good and smart – people like you and me. I’m always most interested in exploring what happens when bad things are done by reasonably good, ordinary, well-meaning people – in trying to work out what it says about the people – and what it means to those who are close to them. This gets particularly interesting when the villains are children!
Your novels have been described as domestic noir – what is this?
The domestic world is what’s most familiar to many of us – it’s where we feel safe, where we can be ourselves. I love exploring what happens when that world is turned on its head – when our haven becomes a place that’s unsafe, that’s built on lies and secrets. When home is actually the most dangerous place we can be – whether physically or psychologically – that’s the noir.
How long did it take you to write The Golden Child?
The initial draft took a little over a year, though there’s been a solid year of redrafting and editing – and of course it’s been many years in the making.