For Mother’s Day, a list of some books featuring moms:
American Mom by Mary Kay Blakely. The former Ms. Magazine editor’s memoir of raising her two boys. It’s insightful, touching and real. I once heard Blakely tell a funny story about this book’s title. She said she wanted to call it “Raising Terrorists,” but bowed to her publisher’s wishes and called it “American Mom” instead. One day, running late to a book signing, she was pulled over for speeding, and had to explain to the police officer how she was on her way to sign copies of her book American Mom. At that moment, she said, she realized how smart it was to listen to your publisher.
Beloved by Toni Morrison. In this post-Civil War novel, a lost soul reappears. Sethe, a former slave, is consumed with mourning for the young daughter who died years earlier. One day, the daughter’s spirit arrives on Sethe’s doorstep in the form of a young woman. Through her we see the ghosts of slavery are not easily banished.
Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen. How do you report spousal abuse when the spouse who beats you is a police officer? You don’t. You pack up your son and sneak away with him, doing your best to build new identities and become untrackable. I think this novel has one of the best endings I’ve ever read. Not tidy, though.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. The mother in this novel, Enid Lambert, comes to a realization: “What you discovered about yourself in raising children wasn’t always agreeable or attractive.” Still, Enid dreams of one last family Christmas with their three grown children before the health of her husband, Alfred, declines too much. Their kids’ lives are falling apart in different ways, and Enid’s campaign to bring them together reveals the weaknesses and the strengths of their family ties. There are power struggles galore but also acts of incredible love and self-sacrifice, which gives them a lot in common with many real-life families.
The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacqueline Mitchard. Why did I read this novel when my children were young? Do not read this if you have young children. Read this if your children are big or you have no children. A very busy mom loses one of her three kids. Poof – he vanishes. It’s a good book, a compelling read. Disturbing if your kids are near the age of the one who disappears.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler. This was the first Anne Tyler novel I ever read. What I love about Tyler’s characters is how close they come to self-awareness without ever quite arriving. Pearl raises three children on her own after her husband leaves, a piece of trivia she neglects to mention to the children. He is traveling salesman, and the youngsters go on for a while thinking he’s simply away on business. The three kids grow up with a fair amount of sibling rivalry and do their best to create the next generation of family messiness.
I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots by Susan Strait. Upon her mother’s death in 1959, teenager Marietta Cook – tall and strong and blue black – leaves her home in Pine Garden, South Carolina, a place forgotten by time. She heads to Charleston to seek her future. The novel follows her life through the birth and raising of twin boys, right into grandmotherhood.
Juno’s Daughters by Lise Saffron. A mom and her two daughters who live on an island in Washington state find a summer of interaction with Shakespearean actors transformative.
Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson. There was more to Shirley Jackson than making us confront our worst natures. This memoir of life with her children and husband is laugh out loud funny. It is several decades old, however, so be prepared to cringe over all of the smoking and the lack of seatbelts.
Mother on Fire by Sandra Tsing Loh. This memoir will resonate with any mother who has found herself
drowning in navigating the waters of kindergarten enrollment. Though it’s not quite so treacherous where I live. You will laugh as you recognize yourself and other parents in the anecdotes she recounts.
Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. Lamott’s memoir of her first year of motherhood. She speaks truth in ways most of us are too wimpy to. Also, she’s very witty.
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin’s. This is the tale of an elderly woman who vanishes one day from a Seoul train platform. From the first pages, it’s apparent Mom has been gradually disappearing for years, as her children have grown busy with their own lives and her husband has paid her little attention.
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan. Terry Ryan’s memoir is a tribute to her resourceful mother. While her alcoholic husband invested his wages in liquid assets, Evelyn Ryan kept her family of 12 afloat by composing advertising jingles for contests as she did the ironing. She converted her facility for language into money, cars, appliances and grocery shopping sprees while bequeathing her children the legacy of a can-do spirit.
Room by Emma Donoghue. This novel introduces us to a mother struggling to survive in extraordinary circumstances. Five-year-old Jack has spent his entire life in one room, just he and Ma, who makes sure Jack exercises, learns to read and eats the vegetables Old Nick brings on his otherwise unwelcome visits.
Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich. Not until the end of this novel do you discover who the real narrator is. Erdrich takes the concept of unreliable narrator to new heights. Much of the book is written in the form of excerpts from the diaries of Irene America, a Native American artist, wife and mother. Diaries is plural, because she keeps two: the one she wants her husband to find and read, which is at least partly fictitious, and the real one that she keeps under lock and key. The effects of their parents’ relationship games on the kids is not insignificant.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. I read this book maybe 12 years ago and it stuck with me. Chang tells the life stories of her grandmother, her mother and herself. Her mother was a young woman during the Cultural Revolution. May you live in interesting times indeed. Small personal moments of heartbreak and triumph are magnified by surrounding large historical events.
3 thoughts on “Book List: Mothers in Fiction and Memoir”
I haven’t read a single one of these books. How insane. I really need to read Beloved and it’s been on my list forever. Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite authors but I haven’t yet read Shadow Tag. Thanks for so many great recommendations.
You’re quite welcome. Making book lists is like a tic of mine or something. I love doing it.
It is so much fun. Especially when you have an excuse like a holiday. You should do one for Father’s Day as well. I will visit back and check. : )