Book review: Jen Mann’s ‘People I Want to Punch in the Throat’

People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges. Jen Mann. Ballantine. 224 pages. $16.
People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges. Jen Mann. Ballantine. 224 pages. $16.

Endearing yourself to readers with a book called People I Want to Punch in the Throat is difficult, yet somehow author Jen Mann manages to do just that in her new hilarious memoir.

It’s a collection of short essays on Mann’s life as a married mom of two, who has a gift for calling out the most ridiculous and annoying aspects of suburban life. Much of her tongue-lashing is aimed at fellow parents, but Mann’s relatable stories will appeal to any cynic with a sense of humor.

Mann — whose similarly titled blog became popular when a post, bashing overachieving mommies, went viral in 2011 — introduces the book with a list of some prime targets of disdain, including “humblebraggers” and extreme couponers. Her astute observations on generally irritating people make her a lovable hater who’s got the moxie to say what we’re all thinking.

The book comes with a warning that its amusing anecdotes are Mann’s version of events, implying the facts may not all check out. She’s obviously embellishing some of the over-the-top yarns, but the universal truths are so funny and real.

Mann takes familiar experiences — waiting in the carpool line, sports parents in the bleachers and bargaining with yard sale shoppers — and spins them into comedy gold. The tone is tough, sarcastic and sometimes angry, but the author also reveals a sensitive, vulnerable side. She divulges family dirt, but maintains some privacy by referring to her spouse only as “the Hubs,” and using the charming pseudonyms Adolpha and Gomer for her kids.

Mann needs only a few sharp details to accurately sum up distinct personalities. There are the judgmental, designer-sunglasses-wearing “Dolce moms,” the self-interested garage-sale-trolling jerks who hope you won’t break a big bill she affectionately calls “$50 people” and the freaky, pill-popping moms known as “Superusers.”

She loves to pick on extreme parents, who spoil and overschedule their kids. Stories about catty, cliquey moms zero in on complicated female relationships. And she deftly uses humor to underscore how intense and humbling mothering can be.

“Now the Mommy Wars are all about who can out-mom their neighbor. The judging is not about who spends the most time with her kid … or who has the most important job; it’s been racheted up to who can breast-feed the longest and in the most unusual places.”

A talented humorist, Mann doesn’t shy away from tough topics, including political correctness and racism. She loves to present herself as the underdog, but despite her throat-punching bravado, her fundamental theme is self-acceptance.

Brooke Lefferts reviewed this book for the Associated Press.