Sometimes, you read the book first, and then see the movie. In this case, I saw the movie first (check here for the review). After having read the book, I find a new respect for the movie; it did a wonderful job of preserving the essence of the novel.
The story revolves around three women and their journeys as mothers and daughters. Charlotte is 17 and dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. Her mother, Karen, is coping with a variety of troubles- being a single mother herself, finding out she is adopted and being the caretaker for her mother who is in the first stages of Alzheimer’s. And lastly we have Nan, the matriarch of the family who recognizes that she is losing some of her faculties and struggles to make sense of her own life thus far.
There is redemption for everyone in the end- Karen recognizes and deals with her fear of life and the unknown, thus freeing her to move forward and grow. Charlotte has her child, but finds strength in her family to balance getting her education and be a mother to her son. Finally, Nan gets the care she needs in a nursing home, but is meanwhile newly respected by her daughter and granddaughter who work to preserve the memories and life she had by recording her stories.
What I like most about this book, aside from the uplifting story, is that the women are not paired off in the end. It would have been simple to do since the elements are there- Karen is dating a nice man who respects her, but he gets married to an Italian woman who then becomes Karen’s friend. Charlotte, while pregnant, starts to date a smart, rich young man, but he is not even mentioned in the epilogue. It’s refreshing when characters are complete and resolved without having to be mated with someone.
The book reads smoothly and easily despite the three different voices, since the story is told from each woman’s perspective. It is a quick read- I finished in two days, another friend finished in one. But frankly, as a mother, the following excerpt touches me most profoundly:
‘In the struggle to take on the mantle of parenthood- and it is like a mantle, a big padded-shoulder superhero costume- you fall into this trap of arrogance. [….] You have to look as though you know what you’re doing, because there’s always this fear that if you don’t some passing shopper will report you as a fraud, someone who’s only playing at being a parent.’
I know I often feel that way as a Mom; not good enough, not smart enough. It can be tough resisting the urge to tear yourself up as a mother, so it’s nice to know I’m not alone. There are others out there just as confused and desperate as I am and they survive. Maybe I shouldn’t think about it too much!