Thursday, April 1, 2010

Not Becoming My Mother, by Ruth Reichl

I have to laugh at the title of Ruth Reichl's recent book, "Not Becoming My Mother". I'm still recovering from my father's recent Passover visit, where I devoted most of my energy to "Not Becoming My Father." That, however, is a story for a different day.

Reichl writes about her mother, whose mental illness she has written about in her memoirs "Tender at the Bone" and "Comfort Me With Apples". I thought "Not Becoming My Mother" would be an examination of how Reichl's mother's mental illness affected the author, but it's not. Essentially this is a study of the stultified world of the 1950s housewife. Reichl does a great job putting her mother's illness into the feminist, political context of the bored, repressed woman who is offered no other choice than to be a homemaker. Here, her mother is representative of all the women of her time. Society had stifled women's intelligence and creativity, and these life forces had no outlet. As the author explores this scenario and how it played out with respect to her own mother, she never says, but seems to insinuate, that this build up expressed itself as bipolar illness. As I read Reichl tell of her mother's sad story of frustration I pictured her mother's smarts and artistry overflowing, like a running bathtub whose drain is plugged.

Along with Ms. Reichl, I am a card-carrying member of the daughters-of-mentally-ill-mothers-club, and maybe this is why I left this book feeling cheated. Perhaps the title misled me, but I craved the personal story, not the political one. I thought Reichl would offer up an in depth look at how her mentally ill mother affected her own life, but that part of the story was conspicuously missing. Reichl's chronicle of her mother's challenges brought a different focus onto women of that time, and I was glad to have this part of women's history detailed so intelligently. Still, I have to admit that unlike Reichl's previous books, all which involve her life as a foodie (She eventually became the editor of the now-defunct Gourmet), "Not Becoming My Mother" did not leave me feeling sated.

No comments:

Post a Comment