Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it. – Bill Cosby
Between the days of April 29 and May 4, 1992, Los Angeles, California burned as the worst display of human aggression and mob mentality in recent years wormed its way into the American conscience via mainstream media. Looting, rioting, beatings, and senseless killings all took place over the course of those long days more than twenty years ago, when the LAPD was both under the microscope and behind the eight ball trying to reclaim peace and order among its citizens. It was a time when Rodney King and Reginald Denny became the names and faces of a city under siege.
Philip Noland and his mother have been traveling back and forth to L.A. for his mother’s cancer treatments, but little did they know that upon this particular arrival, they were in for an unexpected adventure, when a wrong turn off the freeway lands them in the very midst of a battle-torn neighborhood to fend for themselves. So how could they ever have suspected, then, that out of that darkness would come light in the form of a young boy named Ambrose, who becomes the spark that brightens an otherwise bleak night?
Your Mother Should Know sounds like it should be a very heavy book, doesn’t it? But I can tell you it’s very much not. Though the setting is undeniably dismal, the verbal sparring between Philip and his mother brings laughter to what is otherwise a really unfunny situation. And guess what? They survive. I couldn’t help but love Philip’s mom for her spunk and her strength and her desire for nothing more than to see Philip happy before she breathes her last, doing her level best to drive Philip a little bit crazy in the process. And happiness, that’s something that seems more like a possibility than a wish when Philip meets Ambrose’s father at the hospital on that fateful night.
Your Mother Should Know is a relationship book, but not at all in the romantic sense of the word. This is a book about the bond between a mother and son. For Ambrose, it’s a book about taking that bond in whatever form he can find it.
It’s a book about the inevitability of loss and the way in which love and guilt and the weight of responsibility plays out in that singular bond, when role reversal means the son becomes the caretaker to the parent. It’s also a book about survival, the sort of survival that means we all find the strength to go on in spite of life trying its best to knock us down. And it’s a book that contrasts the worst with the best in all of us.
It’s difficult to say whether the plot of this short story is driven by the characters, or whether the characters drive the plot. Either way, it worked for me.