Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential Reading: Motherless Women and Girls

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Cris Beam's short memoir Mother, Stranger combines the theme of Motherless Women and Girls and my preoccupation with alternative forms of media and publication. Published on the relatively new website The Atavist, which specializes in nonfiction that is longer than a long-form article but not quite book length (the oxymoron "nonfiction novella" comes to mind), Beam's work chronicles the breakdown of her relationship with her mentally-ill mother. Creative, social, and energetic as a child, Beam left her mother and their baffling home when she was 14. For the next 25 years, Beam had only limited contact with her mother, who told neighbors and friends that her daughter had died. News of her mother's death spurs Beam to look back at her childhood and explore the dark destructive force that was her mother's illness. (I recently posted an interview with Cris Beam on my blog.)

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Kristina Riggle, Fiction Co-Editor, writes, "National Book Award nominee Bonnie Jo Campbell has created a memorable heroine in Margo Crane, a young woman whose mother has left her family behind when she could no longer stand the rural river life described in the novel Once upon a River. Margo is getting along fine with her beloved father and the extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins across the river until her father's tragic death and its aftermath destroy the family bonds, leaving Margo almost entirely alone. Margo embarks alone on a river journey to find her mother, who may be the last tenuous connection she has to the rest of the world."

Editor-In-Chief Caroline M. Grant shares, "Former LM columnist Sybil Lockhart's memoir, Mother in the Middle: A Biologist's Story of Caring for Parent and Child, is a must-read for anyone navigating the complicated issues of life in the sandwich generation. Lockhart is a neurobiologist, and her story of raising two young girls while caring for a mother slipping away from Alzheimer's is infused with a fascinating and poetic glimpse into the science of brain development and degeneration."

Columns Editor Nicolle Stellon O'Donnell adds, "Louise Erdrich's compelling novel Tracks offers two motherless daughters. Fleur Pillager loses her mother and her whole family to illness when she's about seventeen. Years later, in an attempt to protect her own daughter, Lulu, she leaves her at boarding school. Lulu feels angry and abandoned. The sections narrated by Nanapush, who serves as father to Fleur and grandfather to Lulu, are his attempt to justify Fleur's choices to Lulu. He begins by telling her how he saved Fleur when her family died explaining, 'I saved the last Pillager. Fleur, the one you will not call mother.' Although Lulu appears only as a listener to Nanapush's story, her struggle to understand Fleur comes through in choices he makes as a storyteller. "

Suzanne Kamata, Fiction Co-Editor recommends Yarn: Remembering the Way Home. "Much, if not all, of Kyoko Mori's writing is informed by the suicide of her mother when she was an adolescent in Japan. This absence haunts this most recent memoir but it's the central theme of her debut novel-in-stories, Shizuka's Daughter, which still holds up well 30 years after first publication. Mori's writing is elegant and subtle, yet deeply moving."


Rhena Tantisunthorn received her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University in 2007. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and daughter and is currently working on a book about her experiences working with Karenni refugees on the Thai-Burma border. You can find her blog here: Rhena Tan.


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