From Publishers Weekly
Mom-daughter relationships can be fraught with competition, hostility and, in some cases, threats about rat poison. Hillary Gamerow, who writes this anthology's title essay, describes a brittle, frightening mother who casually mentions one night that she's spiked the tuna casserole and that the whole family is doomed. She tells Gamerow, "In a couple of hours, you'll start getting pains in your stomach and you'll start foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog. You know what 'rabid' means, right?" And this memory isn't even the book's most horrifying. Readers meet scary mothers of every stripe, from abusive to frosty. However, this isn't a pop psychology tome, where daughters write as a form of catharsis and achieve deep understanding by story's end. Every writer in the collection has such mixed feelings about her maternal force that acceptance isn't always a given. Some do find an untidy satisfaction and feminine truce, but it often seems fragile, as when Vivian Gornick, as an adult, confronts her maudlin mom about the nature of love and is rewarded by having to cower in the bathroom as her mother drives a fist through the door's frosted glass panel. These stories offer a remarkable display of confusion, helplessness and anger mixed with adoration and love, as well as formidable talent, with contributions from Alice Walker, Paula Fox, Joyce Maynard, Jamaica Kincaid and others. Although the range of writers makes for a mix of class and race, each woman's experience in being a daughter, and sometimes in becoming a mother, keeps the collection tightly focused.
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Far from the comforting stories of mother-daughter bonding that might be anticipated from this anthology's title and cozy cover photo, the perceptive, cathartic essays collected here mostly recount loveless, dysfunctional relationships. Paula Fox is brutally honest in her description of being shuffled by her parents from orphanage to various relatives to boarding school, with only occasional visits home, one of which includes her mother's ultimatum to her father, "Either she goes or I go." Others recall mothers addicted to personality-morphing prescription drugs, mothers so thoroughly abused they never really were mothers, mothers who were mentally ill, and mothers who chose to ignore their husbands' inappropriate sexual attention to their daughters. Jamaica Kincaid's most vivid memory of childhood is that of her mother setting fire to her beloved books--punishment for failing to change her brother's diaper. Several essays are enlightening, most notably psychoanalyst Kim Chernin's tale of growing up the child of Communist parents in the McCarthy era. Curiously uplifting, since most readers' experiences, no matter how deficient, will seem glowing in comparison. Deborah DonovanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved