MARCH 2006: Home arrow Columns and Departments arrow Latest arrow First Take: Don't Believe Everything You Read
First Take: Don't Believe Everything You Read Print

Image"Conflict between parent and offspring," write David and Nanelle Barash is a phenomenon so natural, so pervasive, that it is “largely taken for granted.” It’s a point that seems almost self-evident until one considers its source—a book co-written by a father and his college-age daughter. Indeed, there aren’t many examples of more successful parent-offspring collaboration than Madame Bovary’s Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature (Delacorte, 2005). In it, the Barashes suggest that evolutionary psychology can account for the behavior of great literary characters—a premise Nanelle first explored, at her father’s suggestion, in a paper for a high school English class. David, a professor of psychology at the UW, then fleshed the idea out further in a 2002 essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education, which led to the book deal, which led, inevitably, to “Chapter 8: On the Complaints of Portnoy, Caulfield, and Others” (i.e. parent-child incompatibility).

It’s a minor irony that the Barashes acknowledge on (appropriately) the acknowledgments page of their book: “We also want to congratulate…each other,” they write, “for being such compatible coauthors and showing that—theory notwithstanding (see Chapter 8)—parent-offspring conflict needn’t be inevitable.”