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The British Devil - Greg Hogben This book made me think about my mother in law. A lot. Not that she's a Jesus Freak from Texas, she's an 88 year old Southern Belle from Georgia. Different brand of crazy, but crazy none the less. She will be nothing but gushingly lovely to my face, while telling all her friends what a horrible wife and mother I am. Just this morning she came to the conclusion that a watch she couldn't find must have been taken by our son. When he visited her last, two years ago. You know. Crazy - hurtful - stuff like that. And a new episode every week.

So when you write a book about dealing with a crazy mother in law, you can go two ways. You either play it up for laughs or you let the reader share the hurt you've experienced, because it really isn't funny at all when it really comes down to it. I tend to share my stories as funny, because I am 100% sure that my husband would pick me over his mother, if asked. (In fact, he told her when we got together that if she ever treated me the way she treated her daughter's husband he would never see her again. Hence the gushing and the backstabbing). Greg doesn't have this luxury. Unlike my husband, Danny hasn't long ago acknowledged that his mother is crazy and he is more of a stick-your-head-in-the-sand-can't-we-all-just-get-along kinda guy. Greg, naively, thinks he can keep the full extent of mother's nastiness from Danny, because he doesn't want Danny to have to choose. Admirable, but in the end untenable, as anyone ever in that situation would know. The tension in this book comes from expecting the inevitable blow up.

While I liked the book, I think it suffered from not coming down on a clear side of funny or tragic. Maybe it was meant to be more tragic, but was it written too Britishly reserved to have the full impact. Or maybe the humor was too understated for me.

All the examples of American ignorance when it comes to other cultures and the irritating overrating of the importance of their own were recognizable to me as Dutch import resident in California, but could have been done more scathingly. Maybe they're more shocking to Europeans who haven't been here and for Americans who don't like to be criticized, but for me it was more of a 'yeah, and..?' when these things were mentioned. I wish Greg had wielded a scalpel instead of a butter knife throughout the book.

The blow up, when it finally comes, is nicely done. However, when Mrs Jesus Freak goes from screaming 'You are the Serpent!' at her son in law to acknowledging how wrong she was within 5 minutes, after Danny gives her speech about love and tolerance, that was a major WTF moment for me. Irrational mother in laws don't suddenly become susceptible to reason.

If mine is anything to go by this would have been a far more likely scenario: Son tells mom she's gone too far and she needs to knock it off. Mother dissolves into tears and claims that no one understands her and son doesn't love her and what has she done that God punishes her this way. When this doesn't bring son to his knees she doesn't speak to him for 2 or 3 months. Then she calls and pretends it never happened, but tones down the rhetoric considerably. For the near future anyway.

Until it happens again.

All in all an enjoyable story, but one that could have been better.