Blend Until Smooth
Being currently neither single nor a mother, I am not a single mother, but Joanna Collie would evidently rather I was. From Mother to Stepmother: The single mother’s guide to marrying a man, his kids and his ex-wife is written for the woman with children about to ‘blend’ her own family with that of her partner’s. This is for Collie an exclusive readership; she has quite fairly assumed her reader to be a ‘blender’, but also to subscribe to a narrow criteria she imposes upon them; heterosexuality for one. Writing for women like herself, she makes little to no room for diversity. Informing the reader that they are ‘a human being of the bravest variety’ and then advising they cope by constructing a glorified mood-board patronises women with inevitably more on their plates.
The ‘strong sense of fellowship’ the book claims to offer takes the shape of Collie’s multitude of blending friends quoted throughout. It is hard not to feel that a reader would be more inclined to emulate Collie and her straight, middle-aged chums if it wasn’t so painfully obvious that she wanted us to: ‘You can count on the wisdom of other blending step-mothers in a similar situation to your own. Keep this book close at hand’ she writes. The author’s mantra that ‘The more you focus on something, the more you’ll get of it’ seems less applicable to real life (the same principal applies to the use of the Force) and more to Collie’s willingness that we be the readers she wants us to be.
From Mother to Stepmother is not an alienating read; though perhaps I, as a non-blender, have a luxury in being able to say so. Collie claims ‘the sense of humour is all important’, and she keeps the descriptions of her (blended) family life endearing and entertaining; her tongue-in-cheek use of phrases such as ‘collide-a-scope’, ‘matrimonial moshpit’ and on occasion referring to the reader as ‘girlfriend’ somehow manages to stay on the right side of Gok Wan.
Collie’s wit keeps the book from being either too instructive or too hard-hitting; despite the ridiculous moniker, being a blender must be pretty tough. Yet she leaves revelations of personal trials almost entirely to the friends she quotes, never herself revealing anything more heinous than moderate frustration. The book needs her as the ruling voice of optimism, but she holds back; the closest I have come to evidence that Collie too is ‘a human being of the bravest variety’ is when she claims only to have sex with her husband once every three months.
The erotically astute amongst you will have noticed that I just mentioned sex. Don’t get excited; this review will offer as sparse a discussion of sexual activity as From Mother to Stepmother does. It is a shame that whilst willing to admit blenders (according to her at least) suffer a notable lack of sex, or ‘romance’ as the author prefers to call it, Collie fails to elaborate on the matter further than the obvious piece of advice to ‘make time’ for it. Even her festive description of her husband as a ‘natural stocking stuffer’ is disappointingly devoid of euphemism.
Collie professes that From Mother to Stepmother is the guide that she needed when she was blending and couldn’t find; it is no wonder that it applies to readers similar to herself if she is really the one it has been written for. The book is innovative not only in subject matter but in style as she works together a portrayal of her personal life (albeit a slightly removed one) and a step-by-step workshop of advice and coping strategies. As long as a blender-reader can take Collie’s counsel with room for manoeuver continually in mind, this is no doubt a helpful and entertaining read. However, for those of you like myself, whose only experience of blending comes from a Braun or a Kenwood, I suggest other reading.
From Mother to Stepmother: The single mother’s guide to marrying a man, his kids and his ex-wife, by Joanna Collie; Piatkus; ISBN: 978-0-7499-5550-2; £13.99 from www.littlebrown.co.uk (ebook: £6.99)