Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters: Stories

Winner of the Richard Sullivan Prize for Fiction

Available August 2022, from University of Notre Dame Press. Pre-order here.

In these dense and startling stories, Maya Sonenberg telescopes seasons, decades, and generations in candid depictions of women’s family lives.

What happens when the urge to ditch your family outpaces the desire to love them? The stories in Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters, winner of the Richard Sullivan Prize in Short Fiction, attempt to answer this question, heading straight for the messiness of domestic relationships and the constraints society places on women as they navigate their obligations. In the midst of their sometimes privileged, sometimes bohemian lives, daughters desert their rheumy-eyed elders in dusty museums, steal a mother’s favorite teacup, or consider throwing their dead parents’ nostalgia-riddled belongings out the window. Mothers conclude that they love one child more than their others. Fathers puzzle over a wife’s inability to balance family and career or accuse a partner of blaming their child for her own misdeeds. Women mourn the children they decided not to have and fret over the legacy they’ll leave the children they do have. But sometimes the generations reconcile or siblings manage to rescue each other. Love tears these people apart, but it mends them too.

The emotions expressed in these stories are combustible, both fraught and nuanced, uncontrollable and common, but above all often ignored or hushed because we’re not supposed to be bored by our children or annoyed with our aged parents, even as we love them. The careful shapes of these stories adapted from fairy tales, verse, letters, or newspaper announcements, the surprise of their wordplay, and the blaze of their lyrical sentences allow them to dig into and contain all those messy emotions at the same time. In these works, constraint creates both understanding and fire.

Advance Praise

“I loved the stories in Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters with my whole heart, thrilled by their intuitive leaps of imaginative logic, their celebrations of wonder and surprise, and their centering of the unbridled wildness of the mind. Maya Sonenberg has given me exactly the kind of gift I want from a collection of stories: precisely made, gorgeously rendered worlds, each so inventive that it suggests there’s always even more magic waiting beyond its margins. I know I will visit these stories again, and that next time they will transport me even farther into wonder.” —Matt Bell, author of Appleseed

“Maya Sonenberg’s contemporary tales are alive with the pulse of the mythic, and her fairy stories brim with all the light and longing of the everyday. These visions of mothers and daughters—broken, breaking, seeking, striving—stick in the mind even as they open the heart. What a powerful, gorgeous collection.” —Jedediah Berry, author of Manual of Detection

“Maya Sonenberg’s Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters is a revelation of fairy tale and form. In gorgeous, clear prose, evoking a playful range of settings, Sonenberg irreverently questions the loaded roles of child and parent, of princess and caretaker, all the while piercing the wonders of both our natural world and our labyrinthine hearts.” —Sharma Shields, author of The Cassandra and The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac

“The luminous sentences that comprise Maya Sonenberg’s Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters house one surprise after another, never landing where the reader expects linguistically, narratologically, or existentially. They delineate quietly broken lives and unhurried regret in fictions that exist within beautiful clouds of ontological static.” —Lance Olsen, author of Skin Elegies

“Written with humor and spirit, this lively assembly of protean fictions takes us from castle to carwash via an anxious activist, a frazzled painter, a pickle maker, an exemplary whale, and the always illuminating chimpanzee.” —Rikki Ducornet, author of Trafik

“Maya Sonenberg’s witchy and yet touchingly vulnerable characters bring to mind the ‘bad’ mothers and daughters of Lispector, tinted with shades of the Brothers Grimm.“ —Barbara Browning, author of The Gift