… That ability for nuanced writing, for creating characters who are at once terrifying and engaging, is one of the things that I particularly respect about Brenda Peterson. The mother in “Duck and Cover” is clearly erratic (she almost reads like a manic/depressive) and frequently abusive, but she’s also got an undeniable charm.
The ability to hold both sides of a character clearly in view is not easy in a book, any more than it’s easy in life. One of the challenges in dealing with my dad’s death was moving beyond the point where I wished he had either been all good dad or all monster to understanding the the reality of him was that he was both.
Her depiction of the father as a husband and father who deals with his wife’s excesses not by curbing them and protecting their children but by escaping into his work is likewise familiar.
A dangerous parent can only survive with a partner who denies the reality of what’s happening, or who actively joins in the abuse. One of the truths that this book holds is that it is not enough to simply be kind and loving if one finds one’s self in an abusive relationship. Good parenting sometimes requires hard actions. Sometimes it means apparently betraying a spouse who might in some ways be a good and wonderful person. It is not simple.
Anyone who has experienced a reality like that will recognize if not details, certainly outlines, in the parents in “Duck and Cover.”