Lord knows mother/daughter relationships are complicated. I happen to have a mutually loving relationship with my own mother and found it hard to imagine one that is truly strained…until reading Natalie Serber’s debut book, Shout Her Lovely Name.
I may have appreciated it more if I was a mother myself, having gone through both the mother and daughter stages examined in this collection of short stories. Everything changes when you become a mother, in ways you can’t expect until you experience it, and I don’t mean stretch marks. (Or so I’ve been told by my Mommy friends.) Motherhood takes Ruby Hargrove by surprise and she does not take the unexpected changes in stride. Instead, she takes her daughter for granted and focuses on her need for male attention and love of wine spritzers.
I take back my previous statement. I think it was better to read this without having experienced motherhood because it gave me a new found appreciation of the burdens they shoulder and the responsibilities they undertake.
All but three stories in the collection are from Ruby’s perspective or from that of her daughter, Nora, who struggles to find the stability her mother lacks but can’t quite keep herself from making poor decisions. Like mother, like daughter. These two women are complex enough that the other three unrelated stories need not be introduced. Let me digest one dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship at a time. The other stories were beautiful on their own, but I would have preferred a collection of 11 completely separate stories or 11 loosely linked ones.
I’ve got my share of flaws, but these women are ridden with imperfection and their struggle is heartbreaking. I finished the book grateful to have a healthy relationship with my mother but also thankful to have had my frame of reference disturbed. Ruby vows ,“she couldn’t become someone whose life was defined by accidents,” but it seems her life is defined by a lack of true purpose. It is just one accident after another, a trait she carelessly passes along to her daughter. Watching the Hargrove women sink into Mistakeville served as a “Scared Straight” episode I will never live out with my own mother or future daughter.
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