Tag Archives: mothers

*** 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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** The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

 

The Girls in the Garden features a large number of boys but the story is centered on two sets of sisters who live around a private park in London, one set long-established there and the other having moved recently after their bipolar father burned them out of a house. And it especially centers on their mothers who both fret immensely about their daughters and whose worries will eventually meet in solving a shocking mishap. The plot is nicely twisted and full of potentially bad guys, and it could be an absolute delight, except that the voices of the daughters never sounded quite believable to me. Would a twelve-year old , even a mature twelve year old, write about a fifteen-year old as “you haven’t found out what you are good at, how tall you are going to be or how pretty of if you are going to be rich or poor or happy or sad”. I think not. That was the main problem of the book for me: the kids open their mouths and their mothers’ voices come out.

 

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** The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer starts with a brutal matricide, which the author meticulously reconstructs from archives, followed by the dispatch of the murderer, aged 13, to an insane asylum, and eventually his immigration to Australia, proud service during WW1, and life as a peaceful and kind man. The detailed reconstruction of events can get a little tedious, but the book nicely recreates transatlantic voyages (with live cattle imported from the US), the uproar at how cheap crime novels may have fostered the crime (which sounds exactly like today’s apocalyptic descriptions of the internet), and the primitive state of psychiatry, pre-drugs of any kind. It also show how important it is to be able to recreate oneself. In those days, moving to Australia seemed to do it. Today, not so easy…

 

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* 1/2 Catastrophic Happiness by Catherine Newman

Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood’s Messy Years is couched as a memoir but reads more as a series of essays about motherhood, written by a mother of now-tweenaged children. It took me a long time to get into the book, I thought because the immersive approach of the author to motherhood seemed to be simply too much. And then I understood that she is a world-class worrier. How difficult it must be to raise children while being pathologically worried about them! Amongst all the worries, there are many little gems, stories of lovely moments with her children when they make new leaps of logic and ask questions we did not think they could ask.

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