Monday, April 1, 2013

Her Mother's Daughter

1987, 1988 Ballantine edition
Marilyn French
Her Mother's Daughter
Original price $5.95, purchase price unknown
Very, very worn paperback

This is a definite improvement over The Women's Room and The Bleeding Heart, although like them it tells many life stories.  Here though, the focus is on four generations of one family, not just the mothers and their firstborn daughters, but mostly.  The main perspective is that of Anastasia: daughter of Belle, granddaughter of immigrant Frances, mother of Arden (and Billy and Franny).  Anastasia struggles with how Frances's and Belle's unhappiness has impacted her life, among others.  Like Mira in French's first novel, Anastasia is unhappy as a 1950s housewife, but she finds adventure as a globe-trotting photographer.  Arden ironically lives a life not unlike Frances's and Belle's earlier in the twentieth century, when she lives on a hippie commune.  (She has to take care of three small children without modern appliances or hot water.)

I nearly loved this book when I was younger (which is true of a lot of the B+s), and it has extra meaning to me in middle age, even though my mother died when I was three, and I'll never have children.  It's a much "realer" book than so much of the fiction I've been reading lately.  Like Anastasia's photos, it's constantly zooming in and out, from groceries to war and back again.  I believed in these characters, ached for them, gloried for their occasional triumphs.  I also believe that it's the first time that French sees how men are victimized by society, perhaps less than women, but their pain is real, too. 

I don't agree with French (or is it Anastasia?) that women's problems are mostly due to men, because what about the problems that Belle creates?  Also, while I can relate a lot more to Anastasia's "screwing around years" than I could when I was younger (not that I was ever promiscuous to her extent, but certainly more than I was when I first read this book as a monogamous wife in my early 20s), I don't like how she cheats on Toni, who at that point is the first good man she's been involved with.  Yes, she's pressured into the marriage-- and into bearing Franny-- but it's not as if they've had an open marriage.  (It's sort of "don't ask, don't tell.")  The other issue I have with the book is that the character of Clara-- a lesbian friend who falls for Anastasia when they're both in their 40s-- although mentioned often in passing, isn't really developed.  (I thought until fairly late in the book that she was Anastasia's psychologist, and this is a reread!)

Still, it's a very rich, gripping novel, one of the few of its length (over 750 pages) that I didn't feel fidgety during.

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