cover image Circling My Mother: A Memoir

Circling My Mother: A Memoir

Mary Gordon, . . Pantheon, $24 (254pp) ISBN 978-0-375-42456-4

Short story writer, novelist and memoirist Gordon honors her late mother, Anne. Though she died in 2002, Anne was gradually lost to senile dementia years before, stunting Gordon’s grief. Now, she explains, “I write about her because I am a writer and it’s the only way that I can mourn her.” Anne emerges as the progeny of her era—a daughter of working-class Catholic immigrants, a Great Depression survivor “plagued by the horror of waste,” a stalwart woman who provided for a long succession of family members that couldn’t (or sometimes wouldn’t) support themselves. For all her formidable strength, Anne was vulnerable—her body misshapen by polio, her mind tormented by alcoholism and despair, her tenderness of emotion only conveyed in song. Fans of Gordon’s work will recognize familiar conflicts in the people who shaped Anne’s life: sisters, friends, priests—men who served as “ancillary husbands” through her widowhood. As the title suggests, Gordon realizes that understanding Anne wholly is not easily done from any one stance, and so she opts to encircle her, weaving between the realms of memoir and biography. The result is a moving, affecting work on the tug-of-war between mother and daughter, between women and the changing world around them. (Aug.)