“As I came to know this new person, I began to see how much I owe her. Mom may not have realised her dreams, but that did not make her bitter. She did not have a happy life, but she wanted one for me. And she made enormous emotional sacrifices to make sure that my life would not turn out like hers.”
You might know Reichl as the editor of the now-defunct (sad!) Gourmet magazine. She has also written three food-related memoirs Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise.
Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way, though, is less food-related (although it starts out with a fascinatingly gross concoction of chocolate pudding, prunes, pretzels, jam, marshmallows and peaches) and as I read on, I realised that it was very fitting for the Women Unbound Challenge, for her mother belonged to that generation who frowned on women who worked, and who were only respected when they were married with children. For instance, after her first child, her mother (Reichl’s grandmother) writes to her, “Now you are a real woman!” Yikes.
As Reichl goes through her mother’s collection of letters, notes and clippings she discovers who her mother really is, how she had spent her whole life trying to win her parents’ approval (getting married to the wrong man, leaving her bookstore behind, starting a family, but ending up “tempestuously unhappy”) and how she fought to ensure that her own daughter wouldn’t end up that way.
I’m a bit conflicted about this book. It’s a touching little book, but which is far too short (although my copy has 112 pages, each page doesn’t hold that many of its widely-spaced, large-font paragraphs). It would have been fine to read it as a magazine article or perhaps an essay as part of a larger collection. I couldn’t help but wonder: doesn’t her mother deserve more? Early on in the book, Reichl talks about writing a book about her mother’s generation, and she had even begun interviewing other women and researching about emancipated women. And after reading Not Becoming My Mother, I wished that she had carried out what she had started, that we could have had more tales about that generation, or at the very least, more about her mother.
Book provided by – my library
This is my 7th read for the Women Unbound Challenge.