1. Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl

I first read one of Reichl’s books when I was 13 or so. As an avid reader and a cook, her writing has always appealed to me. As a former food critic for the New York Times, Reichl obviously knows how to write about food. But the strength of her books lies in her gift for storytelling. As a reader, you feel inexplicably drawn into Reichl’s life and her characters (although often exaggerated) feel like weird relatives I’ve always heard stories about.

That being said, this isn’t a book for someone who has never read any of Reichl’s writing. Not Becoming My Mother is a love letter to Reichl’s mother, Miriam, and an apology for all of the embarrassing stories that Reichl has written about her mother’s manic episodes. In Reichl’s previous books, she tells about the time her mother threw an impromptu benefit for UNICEF at their ramshackle cabin in the woods, and catered the party with 3 day old leftovers, or how her mother decided on a whim to send Reichl to boarding school in Québec so that she could learn to speak French.

Not Becoming My Mother explores these stories in greater depth, and from a different angle, as Reichl posthumously examines her mother’s private notes and letters. Reichl tries to understand her mother’s depression and her life from a new perspective. Reichl’s mother Miriam was born around the turn of the 20th century, and faced many obstacles as a strong-willed woman in the depression era. She resisted marrying, became a single mother, and lived independently in New York for several years before marrying Reichl’s father and having a second child. After reading The Feminine Mystique in college, the sentiments that Reichl captures through her mother’s letters and notes are familiar. Miriam felt trapped in the post WWI era, unable to work and emotionally unfulfilled by her status as a homemaker.

Reichl follows her mother’s struggles with self-acceptance and parenthood through letters and she eventually comes to terms with her mother as a person. Although I believe this book is limited in its audience, mainly because of some required familiarity with Reichl’s stories, I think the message is more universal. In the hands of a lesser writer, I think the concept of coming to terms with your mother’s identity as a person could be trite or seem contrived. However, in the afternoon that I spent with this book, Reichl’s writing came across as sincere, and as the desire of a daughter to reconnect with her mother.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to most people, even though I liked it. For someone interested in food writing, this book doesn’t have much appeal. I enjoyed it because I’ve read enough of her memoirs to know about Reichl’s crazy mother, and I thought it was especially interesting that Reichl wanted to reconnect with her mother, and chose to do so in this form.

Pages: 112/112

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~ by lefaquin on December 19, 2011.

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