Tuesday, May 31, 2011

REVIEW: Mothers & Daughters by Rae Meadows


A rich and luminous novel about three generations of women in one family: the love they share, the dreams they refuse to surrender, and the secrets they hold

Samantha is lost in the joys of new motherhood—the softness of her eight-month-old daughter's skin, the lovely weight of her child in her arms—but in trading her artistic dreams to care for her child, Sam worries she's lost something of herself. And she is still mourning another loss: her mother, Iris, died just one year ago.

When a box of Iris's belongings arrives on Sam's doorstep, she discovers links to pieces of her family history but is puzzled by much of the information the box contains. She learns that her grandmother Violet left New York City as an eleven-year-old girl, traveling by herself to the Midwest in search of a better life. But what was Violet's real reason for leaving? And how could she have made that trip alone at such a tender age?

In confronting secrets from her family's past, Sam comes to terms with deep secrets from her own. Moving back and forth in time between the stories of Sam, Violet, and Iris, Mothers and Daughters is the spellbinding tale of three remarkable women connected across a century by the complex wonder of motherhood.
  • Pub. Date: March 2011
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Format: Hardcover , 272pp
  • ISBN-13: 9780805093834
  • ISBN: 0805093834
  • Edition Description: First Edition

About the Author
from the author's website

Rae Meadows is the author of Mothers and Daughters, Calling Out, which received the 2006 Utah Book Award for fiction, and No One Tells Everything, a Poets & Writers Notable Novel. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Awards and Citations:

  • Honorable Mention, Anne Powers Book-Length Fiction Prize, 2008
  • “Notable Novel” selection, Poets & Writers, 2008
  • First Prize, Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops Short Story Contest, 2008
  • Winner, Utah Book Award for Fiction, 2006
  • “Best Books of the Year” selection, The Chicago Tribune, 2006
  • One of five Poets & Writers “Debut Writers to Watch,” 2006
  • “Must Read” selection, Entertainment Weekly, 2006
  • Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, 2006
  • Book Sense Notable Book, 2006
  • First Prize, Authors in the Park Short Story Competition, 2000
  • Runner-up, The Mississippi Review Fiction Prize, 2000

Rae’s Favorite Books:

  • Jesus’ Son, by Dennis Johnson
  • As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
  • The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
  • Unless, by Carol Shields
  • Gilead, by Marilyn Robinson
  • Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  • Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
  • To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  • Last Night at the Lobster, by Stuart O’Nan
  • In the Lake of the Woods, by Tim O’Brien

My Thoughts
Sam was hungry for pound cake. Or at least for the making of it, for the recipe's humble simplicity-- one pound each of flour, butter, eggs, and sugar-- which had a certain elegance.

A portion of this book took place in my neck of the woods here in south Florida. In fact, my town of Fort Myers is even mentioned a couple of times, as well as neighboring Sanibel, a resort island that I visited just a few weeks ago.

Other parts of the story take place in New York, Wisconsin, and a train ride across the country.

You know, I’m not a mother, but I am a daughter. And even my mother has begun to send me “Mother’s Day” cards, because although I am 41, divorced and childless, and it appears I will likely never birth a child, she says I am still a “mother” to many in the world and care for many. I'm a mother at heart, if not in function. So I
could identify with this book and its characters on many levels.

There was a lot for me to relate to in this book, despite my not having children.

Her mother had offered gruff hugs and the occasional kiss on the top of the head as comfort, usually accompanied by, "Buck up, Iris. It's not that bad." Nothing, in her mother's eye, had ever been that bad. Not the chickenpox, or cod liver oil, or a sprained ankle, or a dead bird, or a broken heart. (p. 127)
That her children were not close wasn't surprising, given their ten-year age separation, but it was still a disappointment. (p. 176)
(It was actually a 6-year age separation for me, not 10)

This story was about three generations of women. Grandmother Violet, mother Iris and daughter/granddaughter Sam. I think that Violet as a young girl was my favorite character, although I also loved that of Iris at the end of her life as well.

This book perfectly captured the stereotypical mother-daughter relationship:
She felt a momentary pique-- she ordered the same thing everytime-- but, as she reminded herself, this was not the stuff of tragedy. It did not have to be symbolic or weighted or tucked away to add to a pile of resentments. It was just dinner. (p. 230)
Iris decided that her birthday would be a good day to die. That gave her three more weeks. (page 34)
She had always thought cancer would be a banal way to go, but in fact it felt personal, almost intimate, an insidious march beneath the surface of her skin. (page 34)
Her mother had been tough and capable, a woman who’d done man’s work readily and never complained. She didn’t talk about herself and seemed to have no needs of her own. “How is it you are my daughter?” she said sometimes to Iris, who’d been lazy at chores, a girl given to daydreams and wandering. (page 36)
The Cover: I like the cover, which has a little girl wearing butterfly wings standing in a field. What I really like is the fact that it came packaged in a special cover that made it look like a box, which ties into the story.

My final word:
This book was very easy to read, and often stirred my emotions. I would love to try something else by author Rae Meadows, and would recommend this book in a heartbeat!

My Rating: 8 out of 10

I received a copy of this book for review from Henry Holt Publishing in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, but I confirmed that the quotes mentioned were included in the actual published version.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I do want to give this one a try. Glad u enjoyed it.

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I think your mother is right..you can be a "mother" to many without giving birth. It sounds like you found much to relate to in this book. I will have to read this sometime soon. Great review!