At Electric Literature, Diane Cooke speaks to Jessamine Chan about The School for Good Mothers, Chan’s incisive debut novel that revolves around how a young mother’s error lands her in a government reform program and at risk of losing custody of her child. They discuss one of Chan’s main inspirations for the book, a Rachel Aviv article in The New Yorker called “Where Is Your Mother?”, the need for more complex and messy Asian American protagonists, the challenges of being an art mom, and the purpose of satire in her novel in spotlighting how Western culture in particular reinforces restrictive ideas about how mothers should behave.
“The satire was my way of processing my thoughts, feelings, and anxiety about a generally upper-middle-class and white American parenting culture and all the pressure. I found, and still find, the sheer number of instructions about any parenting task or decision to be overwhelming, so part of the satire was taking the idea of instruction and making it insane” Chan says. “Through satire and using speculative elements, I wanted to call into question who is making those rules and whether it’s possible to ever have a set of universal standards that’s separate from the influence of race, class, and culture. How can the teaching of parenting ever be truly objective?”