Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl

The title wasn't so inviting. Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl; a lifetime of victimhood? A blamefest? Happily, it was neither of these. This work, written originally as a speech, is the perfect blend of feminist history and family dysfunction. This tome closely reminds me of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. Both are slim volumes in part targeted to professional women and can be said to be handed down for more than a gernation to come. Both look at wartime economies (Woolf examines the time between the Great War and WW2 in Britain, Reichl queries over WW 2 and its aftermath in the U.S.): how they change the women at homes, how they relate differently to men and women after the war is over; and how men and women relate to each other. Reichl's mother embodies these changes, and desperately, while living through her daughter at times, offers the supreme sacrifice: one day you will defy the odds and come to be your own person even if one of those odds is me. Live not by my example, but in spite of it. 

It was the course her mother saw as a possibility for her daughter and it embodies the supreme sacrifice, however martyred. Reichl's mother lived within her limitations. It's been a hundred years since Reichl's mother was born, but the book is fresh, non-pitying, and lovingly written. It is not syrup or molasses. It is timely (maybe more for its psychodrama than its herstory though today's lessons can be learned through both). Its wit and evenness make it a novel with which to breathe evenly and deeply.

- Alexandra Smith

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