Anna Gagliano Gordon, who died in 2002 at the age of 94, was the personification of the culture of the mid-century American Catholic working class. A hard-working single mother – Mary Gordon's father died when she was still a girl – she managed to hold down a job, dress smartly, raise her daughter on her own, and worship the beauty in life with a surprising joie de vivre. Bringing her exceptional talent for detail, character, and scene to bear on the life of her mother, Gordon gives us a deeply felt and powerfully moving book about their relationship. Toward the end of Anna's life, we watch the author care for her mother in old age, beginning to reclaim from memory the vivid woman who helped her sail forth into her own life.
Short story writer, novelist and memoirist Gordon honors her late mother, Anne. Though she died in 2002, Anne was gradually lost to senile dementia years before, stunting Gordon's grief. Now, she explains, "I write about her because I am a writer and it's the only way that I can mourn her." Anne emerges as the progeny of her era a daughter of working-class Catholic immigrants, a Great Depression survivor "plagued by the horror of waste," a stalwart woman who provided for a long succession of family members that couldn't (or sometimes wouldn't) support themselves. For all her formidable strength, Anne was vulnerable her body misshapen by polio, her mind tormented by alcoholism and despair, her tenderness of emotion only conveyed in song. Fans of Gordon's work will recognize familiar conflicts in the people who shaped Anne's life: sisters, friends, priests men who served as "ancillary husbands" through her widowhood. As the title suggests, Gordon realizes that understanding Anne wholly is not easily done from any one stance, and so she opts to encircle her, weaving between the realms of memoir and biography. The result is a moving, affecting work on the tug-of-war between mother and daughter, between women and the changing world around them.