Saturday, September 09, 2023

Seven realistic portraits of mothers and daughters in literature

Jill Talbot is the author of The Last Year: Essays (2023). She’s also the author of The Way We Weren’t: A Memoir (2015) and Loaded: Women and Addiction (2007), the co-editor of The Art of Friction: Where (Non)Fictions Come Together (2008), and the editor of Metawritings: Toward a Theory of Nonfiction (2012). Her craft book, The Essay Form(s), will be published in 2024.

At Lit Hub Talbot tagged seven realistic portraits of mothers and daughters in literature, including:
Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Trail, begins with the death of her mother from cancer at the age of forty-six. Strayed’s grief is so devastating that she loses the woman she had been before her mother’s death. In an attempt to be “the woman my mother raised,” Strayed hikes the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State, alone, in the summer of 1995, at the age of twenty-six—a rugged and arduous trek that allows her to understand she doesn’t want a way out, an escape, but a way in—to herself and to what’s true, and at the center of that is the mother she has carried with her on the trail, the mother she always will carry with her.

When we write about people in our lives, we write them fully—combining the traits we admire and celebrate and love with those qualities we question, the (in)actions or words that confuse or disappoint us—to convey the perplexity of who we are as humans.

Late in the memoir, Strayed hikes on what would have been her mother’s fiftieth birthday. She writes, “I passed by high lakes and crossed over rocky volcanic rocks as the night’s snow melted on the hardy wildflowers that grew among them” as she “painstakingly” creates a mental list of the ways in which her mother had “done wrong.” The length of the items expands as the list progresses, ending on the longest, number seven: “When I was a senior in high school, [my mother] didn’t ask where I would like to go to college. She didn’t take me on a tour….I was left to figure it out on my own.”

After a few more moments of hiking, Strayed thinks, Fuck her, a new layer of grief, this time at what her mother’s early death took away from Strayed—the chance to grow up and “confront her about the things I wished she’d done differently and then grow older and understand that she had done the best that she could.”

Note: My mother loved this book. Beyond To Kill a Mockingbird, it was her favorite. She kept copies to give to friends when they were ill or going through a tough time. “It’s about obstacles and overcoming them,” she always told people. After she died, I found six copies in the house, and I’m grateful to have her copy, the one with her name written in her beautiful handwriting inside the front cover.
Read about another entry on the list.

Wild is among Katherine May's nine top books on the very human importance of walking, Monique Alice's six books that will inspire you to lace up your hiking boots, and Jeff Somers's five top books with Mother Nature as antagonist.

--Marshal Zeringue