Ayelet Waldman is a novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and activist, but to many she is best known as the author of a Times piece, from 2005, in which she stated that she was more in love with her husband than with her four children. (“Her eyes were close set, and she had her father’s hooked nose,” she wrote dryly, about her newborn daughter. “It looked better on him.”) The essay, which inspired her tenth book, “Bad Mother,” was blunt, unapologetic, startlingly candid, and funny. In an age of video baby monitors, it was also heralded as blasphemous, and an awkward fallout lingered. Being contrarian is easy, but provoking the like-minded is a heavy gift. Waldman, whose fans had known her as a parent since she began publishing a mystery series with an overcommitted mother as a sleuth, found herself subject to a gantlet of domestic criticism, hate mail, and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Waldman’s second nonfiction book promises equal controversy but a mellower release. In “A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life,” Waldman describes a monthlong experiment treating her unstable moods with minuscule doses of LSD. Her object was generous: she hoped to make herself a less volatile mother and wife. (Research into psychedelics, as Michael Pollan wrote for The New Yorker, has increasingly been directed toward conditions such as anxiety and depression.) Her experiment, though, challenged a popular image of the drug—dropping out, hallucinating in parks, and other dubious perks of the nineteen-sixties—and Waldman’s thoughts on illicit substances won’t strike everyone as family-friendly. At one point, she explains that when her relationship with her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon, comes under strain, they like to take the drug MDMA, also known as ecstasy or Molly, and discuss their love for hours. She suggests that, if young people wish to reap similar benefits, they ought to be sure to test their supply (most of what is sold as MDMA is a dangerous substitute) and wait until they’re in an enduring relationship. “I believe that with whom you do MDMA for the first time might even be more important than with whom you have sex for the first time,” she explains. It is not advice that one expects from Mom.