Thursday, December 9, 2010

Circling My Mother, by Mary Gordon

As promised, Mary Gordon "circles" her mother in this curious memoir. She grabs memories from others along with her own, and tries to piece together how others saw her mother, to get at a more complete picture.
At the end, she says she doesn't want to forget her mother, and it's apparent that writing about her helps her remember. But it isn't just memories that color the story.

We learn of her mother's, Anna's, early years, when she contracted polio at the age of three, how she lived with her sisters, how she supported her family for years, years for which she never was given thanks. We hear about her unusual marriage to a literary man some years older, who never manages to make money at any of the many schemes he tries. And we hear of the surprise birth of little Mary, Anna's only child, almost a miracle.

Mary remembers growing up with her afflicted mother, wondering how her parents got married. They fought every day but apparently made up at night. She remembers the beauty of her mother's face, complexion, hair, and doesn't forget the awkwardness of her gait, with her damaged leg, eventually encased in a brace.

A part of this memoir that I found particularly interesting was Anna's religion. She was Roman Catholic to the max, a max I honestly did not realize existed (my ignorance). Not only did she adhere to Catholic tenets, but she also chose her friends and even film stars, based on their religion. This in spite of the fact that her husband was Jewish and the two did not easily combine their faiths but rather ridiculed each other. For several years Anna actually took time out to spend with a favorite priest. She, and other older women, would take a "vacation" to be near this priest, to listen to him, spend time in his environment as he moved to different locations. This relationship was an odd one, as the priest was falling continually downward in his work, not easily accepted by most churchgoers, yet these women were entranced with his view of the world.

While Anna was held back by her affliction, Mary suggests that maybe this was actually what she wanted - to be happy in her clerical work and confined to a limited world. Her polio gave her what she may have really wanted.

IN the end, Mary tries to connect the earlier almost glamorous mother with the ill, dying, demented, alcoholic one, relying even on the smell of her favorite perfume. She struggles at this point in the book in a way that she doesn't seem to elsewhere. It is a time of confession and exposure and she is uncomfortable with it, yet feels it is necessary.

I found it a fascinating look at not just the woman and the family but also at the time: depression, war, post-war euphoria, religion. As well as the tidbits about genealogy, where Anna came from and how she hung onto it.  


Relyn said...

It's so nice to see you here. I was stopping by because I wanted to wish you a happy new year and thank you for being a follower of my blog. It means a lot to me. Thank you. May your new year be filled with laughter, more joy than sorrow, peace, and wisdom. Blessings to you. Happy new year!

Judith said...

Thank you!