by William Sutcliffe
Is there any phrase, when spoken by a parent to a child, more potentially ambiguous than “whatever makes you happy?” It could be taken as a straightforward expression of the wish for your happiness. And isn’t that a sentiment that we all want from our parents? But it could also have a subtext: “Of course, I only want for you whatever makes you happy, but I know better than you what that is, so if you’d just do what I want, you’ll be happy. I’m sure of it.” That latter sentiment (thinly veiled as the former) is the metaphorical engine driving the entertaining plot of William Sutcliffe’s Whatever Makes You Happy (Bloomsbury, 2008).
Carol, Helen and Gillian, who have been friends since their sons were babes in arms, share similar frustrations with their now 34–year–old offspring. These stalwart young men are not only not married (and, therefore, offer no prospect of grandchildren), but they seldom bother to call, not even for the de rigueur holidays, like Mother’s Day. They’re not interested in sharing their experiences, and since leaving home, not one has ever expressed any interest whatsoever in a nice long visit from their mothers. So the three moms decide to take matters into their own hands: each one, with no advance warning, will drop in on her son for a week’s stay, or at least until she’s finally come to understand her son’s choices and decisions. Naturally, the unexpected arrival and protracted visit of their mothers means there are radical changes ahead for Paul, Matt and Daniel. Both mothers and sons, and even fathers and daughters, will enjoy this often hilarious tale (there’s a wonderful scene at a cocktail party that I still chuckle over), in which Sutcliffe reaffirms the central place that mothers and sons have in each other’s lives.