“You will devour these beautifully written—and very important—tales of honesty, pain, and resilience” (Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author of Eat Pray Love and City of Girls) from fifteen brilliant writers who explore how what we don’t talk about with our mothers affects us, for better or for worse.
As an undergraduate, Michele Filgate started writing an essay about being abused by her stepfather. It took her more than a decade to realize that she was actually trying to write about how this affected her relationship with her mother. When it was finally published, the essay went viral, shared on social media by Anne Lamott, Rebecca Solnit, and many others. This gave Filgate an idea, and the resulting anthology offers a candid look at our relationships with our mothers.
Leslie Jamison writes about trying to discover who her seemingly perfect mother was before ever becoming a mom. In Cathi Hanauer’s hilarious piece, she finally gets a chance to have a conversation with her mother that isn’t interrupted by her domineering (but lovable) father. André Aciman writes about what it was like to have a deaf mother. Melissa Febos uses mythology as a lens to look at her close-knit relationship with her psychotherapist mother. And Julianna Baggott talks about having a mom who tells her everything.
As Filgate writes, “Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them.” There’s relief in acknowledging how what we couldn’t say for so long is a way to heal our relationships with others and, perhaps most important, with ourselves.
Contributions by Cathi Hanauer, Melissa Febos, Alexander Chee, Dylan Landis, Bernice L. McFadden, Julianna Baggott, Lynn Steger Strong, Kiese Laymon, Carmen Maria Machado, André Aciman, Sari Botton, Nayomi Munaweera, Brandon Taylor, and Leslie Jamison.
Filgate, contributing editor at Literary Hub, collects a fascinating set of reflections on what it is like to be a son or daughter. One of this anthology's strengths lies in its diversity, both in the racial and socioeconomic backgrounds represented, and in the experiences depicted some loving, others abusive. The strongest pieces are the most revealing: in Kiese Laymon's essay about "the harm and abuse I've inflicted on people who loved me," he asks "Why do I... want to lie?" a question that resounds throughout this book. Nayomi Munaweera offers an attention-grabbing account of growing up in an immigrant household and with a mother with a personality disorder, while Brandon Taylor conveys the shattering pain of verbal and physical abuse. In a sunnier entry, Leslie Jamison explores the magic of having a great mom and describes the spell cast by a parent shaped by hippie-era Berkeley. Despite the title, the contributors find it difficult to talk about what's unsaid, with most discussing what has already been spoken. Nevertheless, the range of stories and styles represented in this collection makes for rich and rewarding reading.
Highly recommend, especially for anyone working through their relationships to their family and caretakers. There’s just something about writing that makes you feel like you’re not alone.