Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell

I've wanted to read Bonnie Jo Campbell for several years now.  She is considered one of the strongest voices in new American authors, and documents the poorer side of American society.  The people she writes about are not the soccer moms or the wealthy country club set.  Instead, she writes of those who work blue collar jobs when they can get them, who grab what joy they can find in the world regardless of opinion, and those whose lives often don't work out as they had hoped.

In this anthology of sixteen stories, Campbell explores what it means to be a woman from all sides.  There are stories about a pregnant woman at her shower worrying about how to safeguard her new baby and one about a woman who has been a caretaker to her elderly parents for a decade and who is now exploring life on her own.  One woman thinks a stray dog is her ex-boyfriend come back to try to make things right.  One woman finds love in her sixties long after she thought all chance of romance was over.

In the title story, Campbell makes this statement about the relationship between mothers and daughters:

'You should've had a daughter of your own.  That would've been a bone for you to chew on all your life.  I guarantee, though, you wouldn't win any award for raising a daughter.  Hell, if had a daughter, she'd probably admire me, for my toughness and the way I like to laugh and party, for the way I've never given up, for my knowing how to break horses and grow vegetables and bale hay, and the way I overlook nonsense and small troubles.  If you'd had a daughter, you'd be more forgiving of what people do.  You think I've failed you, Sis?  Well, my ma failed me, too.  She let herself get locked in the nuthouse.  And you would've failed your own daughter if you had one.  That's women's studies.'

Every mother alive recognizes herself in these words.  We all have such high hopes when we have children but we all fail our children in some ways.  If we're tough and raise independent children, we were too unemotional.  If we are totally supportive and involved, we're spoiling our child.  No matter how many things you do, your child will always remember the one you forgot to do.  Yet even when we feel we fail, we are the touchstone for our children and how they view society.  Campbell is a master of exploring this territory of how women fit into the world and their families.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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