Signet, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-20274-0
Contemporary Fiction, 2001
Mother’s Day is on May 13, oh, can you smell the avarice in the air? It’s still mid-April, and what’s to fall on my lap (and $5.99 on those money-grubbing people’s laps) but this anthology Mothers & Sons. It’s a sometimes-autobiographical, sometimes purely fictitious anthology where the sons reminisce about their mothers or the mothers collaborate with their sons to write “happy, uplifting” stories.
I confess it almost works. I have tears in my eyes after finishing editor and also contributor Jill Morgan’s With Love, which describes her feelings as she watches her son walk down the aisle. It’s a simple yet moving story about a mother who has to deal with the fact that her children are grown and are moving on. She remembers her son Chris’ childhood and the good times they had together, and closes her reminisces with a bittersweet
It is a day of letting go.
We stand to honor the bride as Michelle walks down the aisle on the arm of her father. She is so beautiful. I glance back at Chris and see the look of complete love for this woman shining from his eyes… and know that he is already gone.
It is the way it should be.
The rest of the anthology? Well, it can be ugly and tedious more often than poetic and inspiring. I mean, yes, it is lovely to read of stories where mothers are elevated to martyrhood as well as sainthood. In a world where real life can make motherhood a life of boot camp cleaning and dealing and peacemaking and AAAAAHHHHHHings, it is nice to imagining one’s kids rhapsodizing about their moms in books like this one, elevating those moms to some Divine Madonna figure like many sons do in their contributions (Joe R Lansdale’s O’Reta, Snapshot Memories, Lawrence Block’s A Rare and Radiant Mother, etc).
But these my-momma-is-a-saint ramblings soon get monotonous, because they more often than not always end with mommy dying and achieving sainthood in the son’s mind. Of particular note is Joe R Lansdale’s story, which is delightful in the first few pages as mother and son bond over an unlikely event on Daddy Lansdale’s funeral. But the story then goes on and on and on in self-indulgent “me, me, me” ramblings and I tune out.
I also realize why I couldn’t finish any of Eric Jermone Dickey’s novels. That man reeks self-indulgent narcissism from his writings. His Fish Sammich is not about his mother at all. It’s about Lil’ Dickey’s Premonitions of Brilliance and Courage, oh, with some token Heroic Momma action thrown in. Incoherent, annoyingly laden with dialects that reek of “look, atmosphere!” (do African Americans really speak in thick, thick accents like that, as in “sammich” instead of “sandwich”?), and self-indulgent, this story is amazing in that it pretends to be an Ode to Mommy and instead turns out to be Awesome Lil’ Dickey’s Soapbox Hour. Whatever.
Marcus Major is less self-indulgent. But he, too, takes this “Ode to Mommy!” thing to wax lyrical about how this one year in some horrible all-white town, he grows into a super-talented sports jock that all the white chicks dig. His mother becomes an accessory in this story as he goes on to describe his amazing teenage years as some superhero adolescent. Give me a break. Mr Major, see the anthology theme? It’s Mothers & Sons, not My Jockstrap and I.
Diana Gabaldon and her son collaborates in Mirror Image, both forgoing the “My Mommy Died A Saintess” sentimental muzak for a fantasy story about saving-the-throne. (Either that or Ms Gabaldon doesn’t want to write about her dying in her own story.) It’s a pretty cute story, if nothing else.
That’s the thing. What is this anthology all about? Making mothers feel good? It’s nice to know that these people love their mothers. Really. But when every other story monotonously highlights the Sufferings of Motherhood in Poverty and War, I wonder if mothers are supposed to feel good in playing victims. Oh yes, they are strong, but more often than not, these mothers break down after their husbands’ deaths and just couldn’t move on. Have to depend on sonny now, boo hoo hoo. Add in those stories that are nothing more than self-indulgent, sometimes incoherent yammerings from authors about their mothers. Or how their sons finally reconnect with them and know in the end, Mommy knows best. Ugh.
I have a feeling that readers looking for sentimental stories of mothers suffering like mad for the sake of kids will love this book – you know, those heart wrenching tales of a mother enduring so much to be rewarded by the hitherto stupid, mulish son’s repentant whisper, “Momma, I love you” before she closes her eyes and expires from cancer/heart attack. For some people, life is worth it if they die a martyr. For others, it’s fun reading about people’s bloated sufferings and relate it to the hardships they themselves had passed, only this time, oh jolly gee, the fictitious martyr gets elevated to sainthood when in real life, the readers aren’t appreciated at all. And others may just want the sappy sentimentality.
Well, these readers will love this anthology. I could have loved it too, if it isn’t so boring and monotonously one-note. Not many happy mothers here – everyone’s mostly enduring, suffering, and dying. This is not a celebration of motherhood, it’s an eulogy.