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Based on his columns for The New Yorker, Ian Frazier's first novel, The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days, centers on a beleaguered wife and mother of two boys who speaks to the frustrations of everyday life. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Housekeeping Tips From One Mercurial 'Mommy'

by NPR Staff
Oct 1, 2012 (All Things Considered)

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Ian Frazier is the author of several books, including Travels in Siberia and Lamentations Of The Father. He is also a staff writer at The New Yorker.

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The cursing mommy likes her scotch. She also likes a martini — or four — and a full bottle of Kahlua consumed in the afternoon while soaking in a steaming bathtub and ignoring the knocks of her children locked outside. Along with her dubious parenting skills, the cursing mommy has no shame, and she swears an extremely blue streak.

She's the flagrantly unpolitically correct creation of writer and humorist Ian Frazier, who first introduced her via his columns in The New Yorker. Now, Frazier has put the mommy at the center of his first novel, The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days, her diary of one year of trouble.

Frazier describes the cursing mommy to NPR's Melissa Block as "very serious."

"She wants to do the right thing and she wants to do what is expected of her and she starts out generally, almost always, with a very good intention," he says. "But then something goes wrong, and then she just totally blows up and just screams and yells and curses. That's sort of her character. And then she recovers, you know, and then she's like, 'Wow, what was I thinking.' But she's mercurial in that way."

Frazier and Block discuss the mommy's feelings about the Bush administration, whom she's modeled after and how the humorist comes up with his material.


Interview Highlights

On why the cursing mommy often blames the Bush administration

"She belongs to a book group and every couple weeks they read another book about how terrible the Bush administration was. And so she knows all these Bush administration people and their names sometimes almost substitute for curse words in her rants."

On whom the cursing mommy actually resembles

"It's me. ... I did used to kind of put on a housecoat and slippers and just sort of lounge around and say, 'Ah, get your own lunch,' you know? It's kind of a love of a Phyllis Diller-type of character, you know? ... A housecoat and fuzzy slippers and you can just totally leave your personality and become the cursing mommy."

On the rise of cursing

"My grandmother, I don't think I ever heard her curse. And my mother might curse occasionally, but nothing beyond the mildest of curse words. And I think in our generation — I mean, I'm of the baby boom generation — suddenly everybody curses; men, women, children. ... But women curse in a way, I think, that they didn't. So I think maybe a lot of people, they do it and then they feel a little bit like, 'Hmm, gee, am I supposed to be doing that?' But it's just what happened, you know? ... It's just part of how things changed."

On why the cursing mommy couldn't be a dad

"Cursing dads are terrifying, you know? Cursing dads are — I don't know why, but no. It just doesn't seem to me that that would be funny. I mean it might be — you could try it and see. I suppose anybody just losing it and sputtering curses is pretty funny. But I think it would be more of a challenge, much more of a challenge, to make a cursing dad funny."

On the kinds of things he finds funny

"I think what is important for things to be funny is if you the listener, or the reader, get a chance to supply the humor of it yourself. That is, if the person telling you the thing does not know it's funny. It's your joke, you know. I remember years ago, there was an official named Adm. John Stufflebeem. And he used to come out — 'Now, Adm. John Stufflebeem will talk about' — and nobody ever said, 'This guy has a funny name,' you know? And to me, I always enjoyed when Adm. John Stufflebeem came out, because, you know, I felt like, wow, I know that's funny, and Adm. Stufflebeem probably doesn't, or maybe [he] does, he just doesn't want to make anything of it."

On how he remembers the funny things he encounters in real life

"I go back and write it down, immediately. ... For example, I was walking in the park near my house and a muffin fell out of the air and landed upright on the path in front of me. And I just, my God, that was incredible! A muffin fell out of the sky! And what was even more amazing, it didn't bounce or anything. And it landed exactly in presentation, just exactly like a muffin right in front of me. And I just thought, 'That is the most amazing thing.' Well, I looked up and hunted around the tree and finally I found way up there was a blue jay that was looking over. He had obviously — a very strong blue jay — had stolen this thing somewhere or found it somewhere and was trying to eat it up in the tree and it had gotten away from him. ... Or he just decided, 'Let's see if I can hit this guy with the muffin.' And he missed. But no, I'll go back and describe that in minute detail. You never know what the one funny thing of that might be. But yeah, I have folders and folders of stuff ... that I'll just note, and, you know, sometimes things come of it, but often nothing does."

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