The odd, rageful, beautiful little book’s inspiration lies in the commingling of insipid bedtime story rhymes with the inner monologue of the wildly irritated parent: “The owls fly forth from the treetops./ Through the air, they soar and they sweep./ A hot crimson rage fills my heart, love. / For real, shut the fuck up and sleep.” The stylish parody relies for its humor and frisson on a certain level of frustration, an over- the- top, pent-up fury toward one’s children, because without that fury, it’s simply not that funny. The idea of saying “shut the fuck up” to a 3-year-old is hilarious and enthralling only if you are channeling an awful lot of that “hot crimson rage.” As one Amazon reviewer puts it, “The sanity we give up as conscientiously-parenting adults makes bonding experiences like this so worth it!”
In Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Freud writes about the “hostile purpose” of jokes. He argues that jokes are liberating and give us pleasure when they articulate the anger we are not allowed to express in everyday life. Here of course, that anger or hostility is aimed at children, at big-eyed toddlers padding around in their strawberry pajamas, and that is what is both exhilarating and disturbing about the book. There is a nastiness in Go the F**k to Sleep, an undercurrent of resentment that is comic, or “cathartic,” as another Amazon reviewer put it, only to parents who are pretty radically subjugating themselves to a certain kind of kid-centered drabness, and judging from the book’s runaway success, that would be a lot of parents.