The Future Can’t Wait, by Angelena Boden, is a story about a mother who cannot bring herself to grant her grown-up daughter independence. When the young woman, having completed her university finals, decides to cut contact with her family and move away, the mother falls apart. Her life, it seems, had been entirely predicated on ensuring her child developed into the person the mother desired as a friend and companion.
The story opens a few weeks before the daughter’s final exams. Rani is an intelligent young woman studying astro-physics and expected to achieve a first. Against her much older brother’s advice – Adam is now a doctor practicing in America – she attended her local university and continued to live in the family home under her mother’s watchful eye. Rani is of mixed race, her Iranian father having left to return to his homeland when she was young. Her British mother, Kendra, remarried David who was a highly regarded if somewhat eccentric professor. David is now retired, pursuing hobbies in his garden workshops. He has always appeared to get on well with his step-children.
When Rani starts to rebel against the many restrictions her mother has imposed, Kendra puts it down to the pressure of upcoming exams. Having been berated by her mother in the past for wearing dresses deemed unsuitable as too revealing, Rani decides to purchase loose fitting clothes and wear a headscarf. Unbeknown to her mother she is a member of the Persian Society at university where she is learning more about her heritage and has made new friends. Her mother firmly believes Rani has no interest in religion or politics and struggles to accept a side to her daughter she has not approved.
Kendra teaches GCSE psychology and has a particular interest in the development of the teenage brain. She offers her friend, Sheila, sensible advice in dealing with her children but cannot seem to accept such wisdom herself. When Rani moves to London to take up an internship the young woman ensures that her family do not have her new address. A few weeks later she deletes her email account. Unable to contact her daughter, Kendra descends into a state similar to grief. When Rani sends a letter informing her family that she is fine, doing what she wants with her life but will no longer keep in touch, Kendra becomes further unhinged.
David and Adam advise Kendra to grant Rani the time and space she needs, assuring the frantic mother that her daughter will return when she is ready. Kendra cannot accept this. She reads horoscopes, contacts psychics, purchases tarot cards, and phones premium phone lines that promise help in finding missing persons. She runs up debts in her quest to find a reason for her daughter’s defection other than her own dominating behaviour.
David bears the brunt of his wife’s spiral into cognitive dissonance and addiction. In losing control of her daughter she also loses control of herself. She has the support of David, Sheila and Adam but resents the truths they tell her. Sheila cannot understand why the previously sensible Kendra has become so obsessed by charlatans and woo woo practitioners:
“What do you want them to do? Tell you where Rani is so you can drag her home by the hair?”
David is upset at the large amounts of money Kendra is wasting, unable to comprehend how she can believe these people can help when it is her behaviour that drove Rani away:
“I’ve watched how you’ve over involved yourself in her life. Telling her what to wear, organising her study times even at university, vetting her friends.”
The loving mother who coddled and smothered her daughter now starts to neglect her other child. Adam is making his own enquiries into his sister’s possible whereabouts but questions how much he can share with his mother who has become increasingly unstable. Kendra risks her job with her behaviour and turns to a stranger for comfort (why does she comply when a restaurant he takes her to demands that she hand over her phone?). Even when David becomes ill she berates him for not doing more to act in a way he has never done because now this would suit her.
In a country-wide climate of growing fear over terrorism Kendra is concerned that her daughter may have become radicalised. When the police suggest the same she rages against the accusation. Despite being desperate to find her daughter she ignores a photograph that could be of Rani and therefore offer a potential lead – she is concerned that the police are making racist assumptions. When Sheila suggests that she turn to social media to see if Rani’s friend network can help, Kendra rejects this sensible suggestion as she does not consider it to be her thing. When a couple of Rani’s friends approach Kendra in town she frightens them away with her erratic behaviour.
I read this book wanting to shake some sense into Kendra. We do not own our children and a mother’s job is to prepare their offspring for survival away from the nest. Kendra’s idea of love appeared to be focused on being loved herself.
The study of addiction, grief and denial were interesting facets in what is an intense and emotional tale. The synopsis of the book describes it as a ‘gripping story of a mother’s love for her daughter’ and in reviewing it I recognise how harsh I have been. As a mother I cannot imagine the pain of having one of my children sever all contact. Kendra’s story may well resonate with those whose children are more like rebellious Rani than the ever supportive Adam. I did wonder at the ongoing relationship Kendra would have with Adam’s partner given her apparent need to influence offspring’s behaviour.
My lack of sympathy doubtless stems from my own parental relationships – we bring to each book we read our personal experiences. This is a powerfully written and engaging story that could feed much interesting discussion. I applaud the author’s ability to generate strong feelings in her readers.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Urbane.