Friday, May 15, 2009

Memoir Review: Who Do You Think You Are?

Alyse Myers’ memoir, Who Do You Think You Are?, is in part a coming-of-age tale, but its main focus is on Myers’ relationship with her mother during her childhood and beyond. Although I couldn’t relate much to her difficult childhood, I was riveted by her well-written story. Her insights into mother-daughter relationships have some universal truths, whether you had an easy or difficult childhood.

The book opens with a prologue that begins like this:

I didn’t like my mother, and I certainly didn’t love her. The only time we ever had anything in common was when I had my own daughter – but by then it was too late, since my mother was to die before we really could compare notes.

I know she didn’t like me either. I can’t say whether she loved me, as I don’t remember her ever telling me so. But her dislike was more about not understanding the monster she created, as she would say, the person who wanted so much more than she expected – or was able – to give. Or wanted to give. To me. To my sisters. And to herself.

Myers grew up in the projects in Queens in the 1960’s with her two sisters. Her difficulties with her mother intensified after her father’s death, when her mother was left alone to raise the three girls. Some of the things her mother said and did were shocking to me (even that admission in the prologue that her mother never said she loved her), having grown up with a very loving, protective mother myself.

This book could easily have become a raging diatribe against her mother, but Myers’ tone is even- handed. She has spent her life trying to understand her mother, and she shares her journey and insights with the reader. She writes honestly but not in melodramatic way, recounting her childhood in detail but often only hinting at the worst of her mother’s abuses.

It would have been perfectly understandable if Myers had left home at eighteen and cut off all contact with her mother, but she didn’t take the easy way out. As an adult, Myers worked hard to build some sort of a healthy relationship with her mother, especially after her own daughter was born. She tried to understand who her parents were before they had kids, before they felt trapped by their lives, and what circumstances led to her mother’s bitterness and sense of futility.

Who Do You Think You Are? is an engaging story of a mother and daughter and the bonds and barriers between them. While some of its revelations are difficult to read, it is ultimately a moving depiction of a daughter who refuses to give up on her mother.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Sue, I found you through Shelli's CFS blog. One of the posts on one of my blogs might interest you and your readers. You are welcome to copy it or post a link to it if you like:
    http://retro-ofg.blogspot.com/2009/03/love-to-read.html
    Blessings,
    Sheila

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  2. Thanks, Sheila -

    Those are some great sites for buying or trading books!

    We have a local used bookstore, but I also use half.com sometimes.

    Thanks for stopping by and for the suggestions!

    Sue

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  3. Wow, that sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for your review, and letting us know it wasn't just a "woe is me" rant. I'll put it on my ever-growing list.

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