In The Drowning House, a bereaved mother returns to her childhood home on Galveston Island and uncovers family secrets along with historical intrigue. I thought that the book read more like a travelogue about the island than a character-centric story and the heroine’s grief was drowned under the minutia of the setting.
Tag Archives: mothers
Elsewhere: A memoir is a remarkably kind portrait of the author’s mother, whose demanding personality and underlying mental illness makes awesome demands on her son and his family. I have not been an ardent fan of the author’s novels, which have failed to get me to suspend disbelief to enjoy the stories, however attaching they may be. However, I found this memoir to be artfully sequenced, told in a perfectly restrained voice that highlights the outlandish quality of his mother’s struggles, and a moving tribute not only to his mother, but to anyone who has to cope with a loved one’s mental illness. It’s astonishing and very sad that it took a lifetime to even suspect that a woman’s deep problems could be caused by something more than a garden-variety difficult personality.
I do not think that Anna Quindlen’s novels are uniformly successful, but I enjoyed her memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, very much. Organized in a seemingly random hodgepodge of flashbacks, ruminations, and digressions, it has her talking about her children (a lot), her marriage (with wry affection), and her learning to be herself (sans alcohol). She also shares a moving account of her mother’s death, when she herself was only 19 and was called, most reluctantly, to drop out of college to take care of the household and her very ill mother.
What I liked about the book were the many small asides, whether about child rearing (which, she says, we can only understand once our children are grown — so true how our minds miraculously clear upon dropping said offsprings at college) or the glass ceiling (created by piling parenting jobs on mothers rather than fathers – so true, again). And somehow she manages to talk about intimate events or thoughts without appearing to violate the privacy of her family, which is a difficult balance.
As the unworthy reader who dared not to like The Last Lecture, I was hesitant to read The End of Your Life Book Club, which tells of the author’s mother’s death from cancer and the two-person book club they formed during that time, so as to thwart the possibility that I may speak ill of the dying again. But I enjoyed this book. First, although the author and his mother do read a lot, the memoir focuses on their relationship and on family history, in a delicate, loving, and often funny way. Also, his mother is a remarkable person, who to the very end raises funds for libraries in Afghanistan, feels guilty about turning down experimental treatment because it would be a service to future patients, but at the same time can be too much of a taskmaster, all of which is fodder for the story.
About the books: I was a little concerned that the memoir would be unreadable without an acquaintance with the many, many books they read. (The author works in the publishing industry and breezily mentions again and again that he has edited many of them!) While I found it very helpful to have read some of the books mentioned in the story, and while I felt a little left out when they discussed some I had not read, I think the memoir makes sense as a family story even if you are not a voracious reader.
There hasn’t been a baby in my house for many years, but reading Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood brought back many memories. The author organizes the book into a series of essays, the first one weirdly focused on aliens (as brought to mind by pregnancy, she says logically but it’s a little weird!) and the last one a most enjoyable jumble of snippets she tells about writing whenever she had a few minutes saved from childcare duties. Whether it’s the awkward ob-gyn visits, the vicarious pleasure of the baby’s first step on grass, the inadmissible desire to just leave the house and the baby and everything else behind, the very funny progression in stroller-buying from the first, rushed and unskilled purchase, to the purely utilitarian one, she writes of things we regular mothers have forgotten, or would not know how to write about, or would not write about so eloquently. Very nicely done.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a memoir by the author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit — in which we discover that her own childhood was not all that different of that of her heroine, with the same oppressive mother who laments her coming out as a lesbian with the comment that becomes the book title. The story gets somewhat less engrossing as the central character ages, but it also brings the interesting complications of caring for parents who were less than supportive.
An aging mom who has slaved away all her life for her mostly ungrateful family, including a philandering husband, gets lost in the big city and is never found again. This is the premise for Please Look After Mom and the start of regretful musings by her children and even her wayward husband. The book is not without problems, the first of which being the o-so-difficult and often grating second person singular voice of a number of chapters. (Maybe they sound better in Korean?) But the story is not stupidly sentimental, as if could easily have been, and I found the portrait of the overlooked mother to be perfectly drawn — maybe a little too close to home (and I mean my own mother, not me!)
I liked Poser a lot, even with its ominous, hokey, and true subtitle of My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, true since each chapter is indeed named after a yoga pose and the author does pace through her life as a slightly overwhelmed mom in the crazily competitive world of North Seattle, where parents feel the need to be perfectly subjugated to their children (and the protection of the environment, to boot). I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of the yoga classes, some with their expectedly competitive attendees, some not, some with great instructors and others not. The descriptions of her family’s struggles made me uncomfortable at times as I wondered how her husband can accept such a public description of his depressed state, for instance — but I guess that’s par for the course for memoirs. Well worth reading!
Where do I start? Left Neglected is the story of a driven executive with three children who, after a car crash suffers from a neurological problem that leaves her unable to see anything on the left or even control the left side of her body. As a result she requires extensive rehab during which she reconnects with her children and, among other things, cures her son’s ADHD and moves to the slow lane in Vermont to work happily for a disability-rights organization. How perfect! Let’s all get a head injury so we can slow down and spend time with the people who really need us, our children.
I should stop ranting here but why stop. Why, when the successful mom (and equally successful husband), pre-crash, arrange their child care duties by flipping coins. Seriously! And the supposedly hard-driving executive manages to travel internationally on a regular basis under that crazy arrangement? And while she has had a horrible relationship with her mother, ever since her brother died as a child and her mother became too depressed to care for her, the same mother miraculously springs into action and manages the kids and her ailing daughter before reconciling with her. Please, stop the insanity.
Bound is a clever tapestry of seemingly unrelated stories that somehow come together – almost but not quite. There’s a brilliantly captured teenager who loses her mother and makes her own way, a ditzy older woman who somehow rises to the unexpected occasion to adopt her (how such a ditz can rise to a most difficult task is never quite clear). There’s a philandering husband (boring!) and his many ex-wives and mistresses (very boring). And a serial killer, why I’m not quite sure. I was hoping it might be the husband so he could be put away for good, but no such luck. I liked bits and pieces a lot but could not quite see the whole.