Essaying the Situation
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Untitled MBR Review for Mothering Mother
    During a freshman college course in literature, one of my erudite professors suggested that novels dealt in truth more thoroughly than essays (Loren Eisely notwithstanding) because “truth is in the detail” and fiction contains profound, rather than reported, detail. I recall this as I set out to review “Mothering Mother”, a recent addition to the Caregiver Memoir genre. It is Carol O’Dell’s observation of narrative technique that is responsible for the sense of truth that soaks this book.
    Make no mistake, caregiving memoirs have become a genre unto themselves. Online journaling has, no doubt, hugely affected this development, although one of the initial in the recent wave of caregiver confessional published journals, “Elegy for Iris” by John Bayley, began as one of the offline variety. “Mothering Mother” by Carol O’Dell, is one of the newest and brightest (literally; the cover is a masterful eye catcher) offerings.
    O’Dell’s book is of the “old journal” school. My understanding is that these vignettes were fashioned from handwritten entries in a journal she kept while her family embraced her mother during her mother’s final years. I’m not familiar with whether the contents of an elder caregiver blog have yet been published. I mention that O'Dell's book originates from a journal because its organization is part of the reason the book is successful. It’s easy to pick up and put down; perfect for caregivers. I’ve often suspected that books written “for caregivers” don’t actually reach caregivers, who have little time for reading unless it’s of the technical variety. This book may actually make it to caregivers because of the ease of its organization.
    I wish I could say, for the purposes of this review, that I’m familiar with this fast growing genre and can compare offerings. I’m not. I’m a full time, in home companion/caregiver to my Ancient One mother. I write about our journey at “The Mom & Me Journals dot Net”. I don’t read much about caregiving because it’s what I do and what I write about. I probably won’t read about elder caregiving until I’m no longer doing it. Even then, though, I’ll probably favor reading about something else. I would not have read this book, probably wouldn’t even have known about it, except for a series of coincidental mentionings and sendings. I can’t say that if I hadn’t read it I would have been ignorantly bereft of enlightenment. I’m glad I read it, though. Ms. O’Dell is a keen and unembarrassed observer of her situation with her mother. There’s just enough history to impart understanding but not so much as to give a reader cause to wonder if the author is nursing a grudge through her writing. In addition, O’Dell’s writing is tight and flows well. O’Dell’s mother’s character and, eventually, her own and those of her husband and daughters, shine through. I did not identify O’Dell’s mother with my own. It was easy to differentiate circumstances and challenges, as well. I was grateful for this. The book allows a caregiver to absorb experience without comparing experiences.
    Some cover blurbs are hailing the intimacy and honesty of this book. I’m a regular reader of a few more than a few online caregiver journals and I’m used to brutal caregiver honesty, expressed well and with inspiration, so I can’t say any new frankness borders are crossed in this book. It is nice, though, to read a caregiving book that is not overtly or covertly instructional or obviously “meant” to be inspirational.
    I’ve often thought that, if I ever consider compiling a publishable memoir out of my online writings about my journey with my Ancient One mother, I would wait until some time after she was dead to compile it and consider publication. Carol O’Dell did exactly this in “Mothering Mother”. She did not, however, disguise the immediacy and urgency in some of her earlier vignettes in order to serve later direction, which is refreshing. It's easy to follow O’Dell’s journey to eventual peace with all facets of her final journey with her mother. It is reassuring for a caregiver who knows she will be taking this journey to read about it ahead of time. As well, O’Dell is peculiarly unsentimental about her experience, including in retrospect. She does not overtly discuss specific strengths that were developed as a result of her journey with her mother, but in the latter two parts of the book O’Dell’s changes are clear and clarifying.
    Would I recommend this book? I have, to specific audiences. Although I pressure myself to avoid caregiver literature, I’m glad I was introduced to this book. I think it would be particularly helpful to caregivers who are braving contentious parent-child relationships in order to honor to their elders. I believe this book would also be eye-opening for those who have a caregiver within their extended family network such as O’Dell, who is, I imagine, the epitome of sandwiching the generations, a process to which she refers as a “vise grip”. At the very least, browse it at a library or bookstore. The vignettes are neat and short. I timed myself: 1 to 1.5 minutes apiece. Better yet, click into The Mom & Me Journals dot Net and search the title of Carol’s book. You’ll be led to a couple of posts that quote directly from her text and discuss my caregiver/reader reactions. Plenty of opportunity to do some free reading while deciding whether to purchase or check out the book.
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