Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential Reading: Generations

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All our bundles are gifts and bargains
For our daughters,
Garments they will return
Or hang in corners of spare closets,
Forgetting to bring them out
Each time we visit.
-- from Crossing Without Daughters by Joanne Mokosh Riley

Every genre finds inspiration in the gaps between generations, and this month, our editors are inspired by generational stories from the fictional to the anthropological to the theatrical.

Fiction Co-Editor Kristina Riggle writes, “One of my favorite recent books is Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan, in which three generations of Kelleher women try to be women and mothers in reaction to the other generations around them. The matriarch is the difficult-- my mother would call her ‘ornery’-- Alice, who controls the fate of the beachfront property that anchors their family and this novel.  In this book and in life, no one mothers in isolation from those who have gone before, and mothers of grown children inevitably see their own parenting used as a yardstick -- for good or ill -- by the next round of parents. I love family stories that span generations, and this is one of my favorite recent examples.”

“Four Worlds” Columnist Avery Fischer Udagawa offers a different kind of history from a very different coast: “I wholeheartedly recommend Isami's House: Three Centuries of a Japanese Family by anthropologist Gail Lee Bernstein.  The scholar’s absorbing prose takes us deep inside the homes, workplaces, dreams and decisions of a Japanese family over fourteen generations. The book unfolds in Fukushima Prefecture, which was affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and which will be remembered this month on March 11.”

For a different kind of family drama, Blog Editor Karna Converse gives us the following: “I’ve skimmed scripts of the plays and musicals my kids have performed in, but I’ve never been onstage so have never truly read a play.  Until this month, that is – and wow, what an experience!  I don’t think I could have picked a better first play to read than 'Dear Octopus' by Dodie Smith.

"Charles and Dora Randolph are celebrating their Golden Anniversary and everyone’s coming home for the weekend celebration. Included in the family gathering are four of six children (two children have passed away but one surviving spouse attends), four grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and a widowed sister-in-law whom Charles and Dora’s children, all of whom are in their late thirties and early forties, have not seen since childhood.  Smith weaves themes of unrequited love, the afterlife and the prodigal son (or daughter, in this case) into the play’s six scenes.  Readers are sure to identify with much of the dialogue, especially the line that first enticed me to search this play out.  This line is part of the Grand Toast given by the youngest child, and only living son, at the family’s celebration dinner: ‘To the family—that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to.’

"‘Dear Octopus’ was first performed in 1938 at Queen’s Theatre in London and ran for 376 performances. Smith then brought the play to New York City where it ran for 53 performances. She is probably best known for her novel, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, which was adapted into a Disney animated film.”

Although "Dear Octopus" is a bit hard to find, we can also recommend George S. Kaufman's Pulitzer-Prize-winning classic, You Can't Take it With You, another drama of generational friction and connection from the same era.  Also, check out Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle for a charming coming-of-age narrative from the younger generation's perspective.


Libby Maxey lives in rural Massachusetts with her husband and two rapidly maturing sons. With her academic career as a medievalist having died a stunningly swift death by childbirth, she now works as an editor, writes poetry, reads when able, and sings with her local light opera company. Her work has appeared in The Mom Egg Review, Emrys, Crannóg Magazine, Pirene’s Fountain, Mezzo Cammin and elsewhereHer first poetry chapbook, Kairos, won the Finishing Line Press New Women’s Voices contest.

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Nicely themed review. Thanks.
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