“I’m pretty sure Mom is having a nervous breakdown.
“Which I tried to look it up and it’s not in the dictionary but I think I know what it is. It’s when your mom has to lie down all the time and has raccoon circles around her eyes and when she walks her feet are as heavy as the whole world and her face isn’t her face anymore and when she looks at you she doesn’t see you and when you look into her eyes, you can’t find her.”
What was referred to as Abby’s mom’s ‘nervous breakdown’ in An Egg on Three Sticks is 1970s language for a suicidal depression.
Fischer’s novel is so beautifully written that the reader sees the truth is what Abby’s best friend, Poppy, whispers about the problem, as she overheard it from her own mother: Abby’s mom, Shirley, has a creative muse and she can’t live a stifling life. And without hammering the reader about what a stifling life is—in fact, without even mentioning it, you will see that Shirley might as well have had her source of oxygen cut off. She’s a 1970s stay-at-home mom. Her husband, a typing teacher, won’t change or remodel the house. The exterior paint is deeply faded and flaking. The family uses old stuff beyond the point that it’s worn out. Their clothes are worn out and faded as well. The kids are not allowed to have anything fashionable, anything current—no new music in the house, no popular books. When Abby’s dad gives her mom a Crock Pot as her big Christmas present, you know you’re turning the corner into a dark alley. And, of course, Abby’s dad doesn’t even understand why this is not a great present. His greatest happiness is routine.
To manage a routine and order, there are rules for everything—no TV during dinner ever, no yelling across the house to call someone to the room, no swearing, no rock or pop music, no being late home from school, no piercing the ears, no go-go boots, no mini skirts, no reading popular books like Jaws, no skipping piano practice ever, trash is incinerated every Saturday.
Lots of people live routine, dull lives with lots of rules. They aren’t suicidal. So how does Abby make sense of it? She can’t, and she rebels as her mom’s world becomes darker and darker. She wants her mom to snap out of it, punish her, take charge. But her mom can’t. And Abby can’t forgive her for it, for being so very ill.
An Egg on Three Sticks truly is a beautiful book although the subject is pretty dark. I might have missed reading it if I hadn’t been asked to participate on a ‘recommended reading’ committee for the California Department of Education. For any student who needs a work of fiction with historical elements that s/he will later research, this one has a lot of fun references to the early 1970s—the music, the hippies, the styles (mini skirts, boots, Levi jackets and more—actually a lot of the same styles are popular now). And some sad references, too—especially to the Vietnam War.
I highly recommend this one to mature high school readers.