Nov 16

Mother-Daughter Relationship Memoirs (3 Books)

Mother-daughter relationships are featured in the following three nonfiction books that offer many and varied personal accounts about real-life issues.

I. Mother Daughter Me by Katie Hafner (2013)

Hafner writes about her own mother-daughter relationship in light of what happened the year her 77-year-old mom “Helen” (not her real name) moved in with her and her teenage daughter. In a Q & A on her website Hafner states, “Mother Daughter Me asks a central question: what is our obligation to our parents as they age, particularly if those parents gave us a childhood that was far less than ideal?”

Widowed Katie had hoped that Katie and Helen’s bond would improve and that Helen would develop a closeness with her granddaughter. Per the publisher: Instead of “fairy-tale” dreams come true, there were “memories of her parents’ painful divorce, of her mother’s drinking, of dislocating moves back and forth across the country,  and of Katie’s own widowhood and bumpy recovery. Helen, for her part, was also holding difficult issues at bay.”

Kirkus Reviews reports on a crucial decision: “Desperate to bring peace to a feuding household, Hafner engaged the services of a family therapist, and their sessions revealed the extent to which both she and her mother denied the reality of their situation.”

II. Still Here Thinking of You: A Second Chance with Our Mothers by Joan Potter, Susan Hodara, Vicki Adesso, and Lori Toppel (2013)

This memoir arose from a writers’ group addressing mother-daughter relationships. Excerpts of their stories can be found on their website.

Kathleen Reardon, Huff Post Books: “This is storytelling as art. The authors excel in their ability to pull you into their recollections knowing…that you are out there vicariously living through their revelations and your own similar, heartfelt and heartrending reflections.”

III. What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence, an anthology compiled by Michele Filgate (2019)

Danielle KurtzlebenNPR: “…(T)here are four main topics that these writers aren’t talking about with their mothers: terrible things their moms endured, terrible things the writers endured, what their moms were like before they were moms and the ways their moms failed to be good moms.”

More from NPR about these stories:

…(O)ur mothers still mess up — sometimes in life-altering ways. It’s about how, despite our love or desperate need for them, we mess things up too. And it’s also about the gut punch that happens when some children are forced to legitimately wonder just how good their mothers’ intentions ever were.

But then, it’s about how much more livable those relationships might be if someone just said those three magical words.

Those words are not ‘I love you’ but, rather, ‘Are you OK?’ Or, even more difficult: ‘Hey — I’m hurting.’

An important conclusion by Kirkus Reviews“…(S)ome readers may want to have their therapist on speed-dial.”

Apr 22

“Bettyville”: George Hodgman, Gay Son, Caregiver to Elderly Mom

George Hodgman spent his entire life as an outside observer, first as a closeted gay kid in 1970s Missouri and later as an editor at Vanity Fair in New York City, and it’s clear he’s more comfortable meditating on others’ lives than his own. ‘The thing about being a watcher is this,’ he writes. ‘You are never really a part of things.’ Bill Keith, ew.com, reviewing Bettyville

George Hodgman isn’t unique in his experience of moving far away (in this case, Manhattan to small-town Paris, Missouri) in order to help an aging parent in early stages of dementia, but his new memoir Bettyville adds a different twist: not only is he gay, but his mom, 90-year-old Betty, has never accepted this—and now she’ll never be able to.

Picked for The Amazon Spotlight recently, the following excerpt is from their review:

…Hodgman’s parents didn’t approve of who he ‘turned out to be,’ which was as specific as they were willing to get on the matter. Any gaps in their understanding were filled with an insidious silence that kept this otherwise loving family at arm’s length…Bettyville serves as a poignant cautionary tale about the dangers of leaving difficult things unsaid…

Hodgman had come out to his parents in his 40’s, many years before he went back to care for her. Gee Henry, Out Magazine, spoke with the author about his attempts to address the issue with his mom then and since:

We talked about it. It wasn’t the greatest interaction we ever had. Then we talked about it a little more. Every time I brought it up, she seemed surprised that I hadn’t changed. I think she thought gay was sort of like having a cold or maybe being pregnant. It was kind of temporary. Gay is just not part of her experience here.

…Anyway, we have evolved a way of loving and supporting each other that doesn’t involve conversations about things that are uncomfortable for her…

Cathy Horyn, New York Times, deems Hodgman’s memoir to represent “the irony of ironies: He yearned for his parents to see him in full — and he accepts that they could not — but in setting down his mother’s life, he has brought immeasurable understanding to it.”

What Else Do We Learn About Betty?

Horyn concludes “…Rarely has the subject of elder care produced such droll human comedy, or a heroine quite on the mettlesome order of Betty Baker Hodgman. For as much as the book works on several levels (as a meditation on belonging, as a story of growing up gay and the psychic cost of silence, as metaphor for recovery), it is the strong-willed Betty who shines through.”

Bookpage: “Betty’s poor health is mirrored by the fail­ure of towns like Paris, whose farms and lumberyards are now Walmarts and meth labs…This is a portrait of a woman in decline, but still very much alive and committed to getting the lion’s share of mini-Snickers at every op­portunity.”

Richard Blanco, U.S. inaugural poet: “…(W)hat I will most remember is the human struggle of Betty—the woman at the window, the woman at the piano, the woman whose desire to help others represents the best of small-town America. The silence she was taught and the complications of our parents’ journeys to be there for us, as best they could, is what I will take away from Bettyville, where she will always reside. Hers is the quiet love that outlasts the distances and lets us survive.”