Tag Archives: mothers

*** The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy

The Sisters Chase starts like a standard sob story about two orphaned girls, but it quickly evolves into a tale of blackmail, family secrets, and a dark heroine in the person of the older sister. Despite the plot twists, the story is surprisingly predictable after the initial shock, and the ending was, for me, way too sweet and packaged, but how wonderful it is to have a borderline sociopathic young woman at the center of the story.

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*** What My Body Remembers by Agnete Friis

What My Body Remembers starts like a standard story of a single mother on welfare, struggling to deal with a mysterious psychiatric disorder while trying hard not to allow her son to be taken away from her, but quickly turns into the investigation of the death of her mother, killed when she herself was a little girl, which started her chaotic and violent journey through the foster care system. She will eventually untangle the responsibility of her father, who was convicted of murdering her mother, with the help of various residents of the small village where she grew up — to a dramatic finale.

I had to try hard to ignore the plot holes (would you race to what you know is a very dangerous scene without alerting the police?) but the psychological complications of the plot are delightful.

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** The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

 

Want a little melancholy with your summer? Try The Other Side of the World, in which an overwhelmed mother follows her husband from England to Perth, Australia — where she finds that she is just as overwhelmed and frustrated by not being able to find time for her art. Her husband, meanwhile, finds that racism (he is part Indian) may be fiercer than back home. The story perfectly the feeling of utter exhaustion of raising small children along with the isolation of emigration, and is full of well-observed details about little kids.

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*** Rebel Mother by Peter Andreas

After a very traditional upbringing and young motherhood, the author’s mother left her old life behind, abducted her youngest child (really!), and started a hectic life of travels through California, several South American countries, and eventually Colorado, leading a bohemian lifestyle and for long periods of time leaving her two older children, young teenagers, to fend for themselves. The book, Rebel Mother: My Childhood Chasing the Revolution, manages to both depict the unhinged and destructive aspects of the mother’s choices while hanging on to a deep love and concern for her. It’s heartbreaking to read that the author as a young child feels he needs to tell a family judge that he wants to live with his mother because she’s the one who needs the most help. He does not tell the judge about  his rationale, and the judge does not listen to him…

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*** Dr Knox by Peter Spiegelman

Be warned: the setup behind Dr Knox makes little sense, but it’s possible to mostly forget why the main protagonists, a physician who works on Skid Row in Los Angeles and his improbable ex-mercenary friend, not to mention the pro-bono lawyer for the clinic, dismiss the idea of calling the authorities and instead decide to save the day themselves. They use ample ammunition, mind games, and lots of luck to save a little boy and his mother from the clutches of a rich man who has an uncanny Trump-like manner. In the chaos of the rescue, glimpses of the characters’ past lives on several continents emerge, along with the complications of the lives of the rich. A fast-paced, unusual story.

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*** A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

The linked stories in A Manual for Cleaning Women read with a strong autobiographical flavor. The title story is amazing, finely dissecting the complicated relationships between cleaning ladies and their employers. Others tell of her complicated life in multiple locale, fighting alcoholism and other addictions. Still others present mostly women trying to keep it all together but not quite managing to do that.

If you love short stories, this book is for you. If you do not love short stories (and I do not), pick up this book. The links between the stories make them into a fine long novel.

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* Boar Island by Nevada Barr

A gorgeous natural setting (an island in Maine), check. A generous cast of strong women, check. A wonderfully rare woman psychopath, check. Two twisted plots coming together and complicating each other, check. Boar Island has a lot going for it, and yet failed to take me in, perhaps because there’s simply too much drama. A teenager rescued from a polygamist Mormon cult is one thing, but now the same teenager is assaulted by her best friend’s father and stalked by the friend’s mother. Really? (And the story would work just as well without the polygamist cult.) Twins separated at birth also have a dangerous genetic disease. Come on! (And psychopaths don’t need twins to be psychopaths.) Perhaps if you can suspend all critical thoughts for 374 pages…

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