Her Mother's Daughter

Marilyn French, Author
Marilyn French, Author Summit Books $21.45 (686p) ISBN 978-0-671-63051-5
Reviewed on: 01/01/1987
Release date: 01/01/1987
Not as shrill as The Women's Room but with a fund of trenchant observations about women's roles, French's hefty new novel, which appears on the 10th anniversary of her fiction debut, is a powerful if flawed work. The writing is rich in detail and insight but marred by an excess of feminist zeal that paints all men as autocratic monsters who are unable to love their children. French limns the lives of four generations of women in a Polish-American family. The narrator, born Anastasia Dabrowski, has by dint of a hard-won career as an intrepid photographer, achieved an independent identity as Stacey Stevens. Nearing 50, twice divorced, she is severely depressed, and she looks back at the lives of her mother and grandmother, and forward to the lives of her two daughters, to try to understand the cause. Stacey finds that in each generation women make bitter sacrifices for the sake of their offspring, while the children, especially the daughters, bitterly resent what they see as their mothers' guilt-producing martyrdom; they, in turn, seem destined to repeat their mothers' lives. Men are the villains here: tyrannical fathers who terrorize or desert their progeny. Eternally victimized in this male-dominated culture, women are deprived of comfort, love, security and peace of mind. French's descriptions of the bone-wearying, endless domestic drudgery of poverty-stricken women are among the most authentic work she has ever done; the travail of the weekly laundry routine is rendered in details no reader will forget. The plight of women who hold down jobs at the same time they are raising families is also depicted with rare accuracy. Writing of the ""anger and despair and frustration and weariness'' of motherhood, French nevertheless comes to the conclusion that raising and nurturing children are woman's only true and emotionally satisfying role. Strong elements of autobiography seem to be present here (Stacey's mother's name is Isabelle; so is the author's mother, to whom the book is dedicated); it seems that no memory or detail has been omitted. On the one hand, this is a moving evocation of the fears and miseries of childhood and the frustrations of wife- and motherhood; on the other, the sheer mass of intensely recalled minutiae is slow moving rather than dramatic. French's contrasts are too intense; her outrage at men's power and women's double bind of servitude and martyrdom is often strident and vituperative. But the basic truths in this novel, and French's determined telling of them, will strike some resonant chords. Literary Guild main selection; major ad/promo. (October 21)
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