Pondering Parenting with Summer Wood 

Her novel Wrecker takes a tender look at a troubled child.

One year after the Summer of Love, a San Francisco single mom goes to prison — leaving behind a toddler who eventually arrives, hair-trigger temper and all, at the home of distant relatives in rural Humboldt County. Surrounded by eccentrics who soon become the only real role models he knows, this boy is called Wrecker, and so is the novel of which he's the central character.

"The stakes in this book, they're impossibly high," said author Summer Wood, who was inspired to set Wrecker in Humboldt and San Francisco because the former is a "natural paradise," and because she lived in the latter throughout her twenties "and loved that city with a kind of fury. Still do." Now living in Taos, New Mexico, "I feel a little like a baby duck that's been imprinted with a kind of alternate mother," said Wood.

Swirling around her novel's young protagonist is the question of "whether he grows up to become a destroyer, a wrecker, like his name, or whether he manages to make it through with his natural goodness intact — heck, whether he makes it through at all," she said.

"The two main events of this book take place in the first two pages. Page one: Wrecker is born. Page two: His mother loses him. There's the great violence. That's the one truly irredeemable evil that occurs in this book. Everything else is an effort to come to terms with that, and to do the work it takes to overcome the harm that's been done," explained Wood, who will be at Mrs. Dalloway's (2904 College Ave., Berkeley) on Friday, February 25.

"Plenty of novels are structured such that the action builds until an event of great emotional power — often an expression of violence — occurs, and then a kind of emotional release is achieved. I was completely aware in writing this that I was turning that convention on its head. ... After the disaster, I wanted to know, who takes care of the kid? Who feeds him? Who makes him do his homework and sings him to sleep at night? ... Who stacks one intimate moment on top of another so that a life can be made?"

Wrecker's biological mother made bad choices and lost her child. Adults in Humboldt aim to parent him, but make bad choices, too. Wood herself fostered four young brothers ten years ago with her partner, Kathy Namba. The pair also has three grown sons of their own.

"I think it's very difficult to be a parent these days," Wood said. "It's never been easy, but the pressure to be a great parent — not just good, but great — well, it's overwhelming. Like if you don't get your kid into the right playgroup or preschool or find the right friends for him or nurture her algebra abilities — I'm kind of joking, but kind of not — your kid will grow up rotten. ... Who fed us that crock of shit? I mean, excuse me, but why did we ever start buying into that?" 7:30 p.m., free. 510-704-8222 or MrsDalloways.com

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