Father-mucker is a work of fiction from the viewpoint of Josh Lansky. He (tries) to make his living by pitching ideas to magazines and movie studios. He is a stay-at-home dad who is currently parenting his two young children by himself while his wife is on a business trip.
Things do not go as planned. This book is, at times, hilarious. It also offers some interesting insights and commentary on parenting, modern culture, politics, and the problems that come when rumors spread.
The title of this book confused my dyslexic brain, and I had to stop and take a closer look at it. The meaning of the title is explained in the story by the main character. It’s not anywhere near as bad a meaning as you may have suspected it would be.
Josh and his wife, Stacy, have two preschoolers.
Roland is autistic, and his primary interests are “states” (as in the individual states that make up the United States) and light fixtures. He enjoys looking at catalogs and online photos of lamps, bathrooms, and big houses – especially if he can find out what state the house is located in.
Maude is the younger sibling. She is very demanding and speaks as though she is royalty. She is physically tough, and Josh thinks she might become a linebacker someday.
Near the beginning of the story, Josh gets an email from a parenting magazine that has accepted one of his pitches. They will pay him to do an interview with a former punk-rocker who is now a father. Josh’s son happens to have the punk-rocker’s daughter in his class at preschool.
Josh is instantly elated, and then realizes that it might not be easy to find a way to interview the former punk-rocker. All he knows is that Roland really likes the musician’s daughter.
Of course, Josh posts this good news on Facebook. His friends are a group of mommies who have set up play-dates at one of their homes. Josh is an honorary mommy.
Some of the interesting social commentary starts while Josh is on Facebook. For example, someone he follows plays a game that involves killing vampires. It is the type of game that automatically posts the player’s kills. These types of annoying posts were common back in the earlier days of Facebook.
Josh wonders if the number of kills his friend has is a high number, or a low one. He considers the idea that that maybe the friend was actually killing vampires. Josh hadn’t finished his coffee yet.
Later, Josh opens a magazine and thinks about the ridiculous names that celebrities choose for their children. Apple. Pilot Inspektor. He later thinks about movie stars who “boink babysitters”… and then, sometimes, divorce their wives and marry the babysitter.
At the play-date, one of the mommies quietly tells Josh that she believes that his wife, Stacy, is having an affair. This rumor, of course, has him second-guessing his entire marriage. Sleep deprived and exhausted from being the only parent to his children for several days in a row, Josh struggles with this news.
After the play-date ends, Josh returns home with Maude. (Earlier that day, he took Roland to preschool). The babysitter that Josh scheduled to come over and watch Maude arrives. She is twenty-six years old and still in college. He finds her to be ditzy, childish, and annoying. She wants a raise. Josh does not give her a raise.
The purpose of the babysitter is to entertain Maude so Josh can go with Roland on a class field trip to a pumpkin patch. To his surprise, the punk-rocker dad is among the other parents who accompany their kids on this field trip. Josh is extremely nervous about how to approach the guy and ask for an interview.
And then, all hell breaks loose… for a while. A meltdown occurs.
There are difficult choices to be made. Josh must decide whether or not to believe the rumor about his wife cheating on him. He goes back and forth on this, often via flashbacks of unrelated things that happened years ago. As a writer, his mind is searching for the clues he now things he missed. Could she have started seeing one of her ex-boyfriends again? If so… which one?
More rumors are spread. Could the husband of one of the mommies be having an affair? The mommy group (Josh included) discuss a rumor about two people who live in town that – supposedly – had sex with each other in a public place while having an affair.
It’s like high-school, all over again. A clique of board and frustrated people are spreading gossip in an effort to harm others, to make themselves look better in comparison, or just to pass the time.
By the end, the rumors get resolved. The truth is revealed. Some of it was predictable (even for the characters), and some was a mystery right up until the end. I won’t spoil the ending by revealing the outcome.
Overall, Father-Mucker is a fast moving story, from the viewpoint of an exhausted dad who is struggling with being a (functionally) single parent for several days in a row. Parents who read this will probably relate to the difficulties and absurdities of potty-training, children throwing tantrums, and the high-pitched scream of a child who has been hurt by another kid in the play-group.
As I mentioned, there’s a lot of social commentary about rumors, celebrity quirks, Facebook statuses (and the proper way to respond to them). There are brief glimpses of what Josh and Stacy went through while trying to get Roland on an IEP, and memories about what their life was like before children.
I ended up liking Josh Lanksy more than I might have expected. I kept wanting things to work out for him, and hoping that he would, eventually, be able to get some sleep.
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