I've read my fair share of very good books lately. Just since September 1, I've had 3-3.5's and 1-4.0. But those were all novels. I think it's much harder to write good non-fiction. With a novel, you can lose yourself in the characters (if it's done well) or, at least, enjoy the story (if it's not done so well). With non-fiction, you are actually living a real person's life. If you don't care, the book is going to be a dud. Well, folks, Katie Hafner's Mother Daughter Me is no dud. I was mesmerized by Katie's story that goes back and forth between her own childhood/adolescence/young adulthood/motherhood and her current (2009/2010) efforts to have her 77-year old mother live with her and her 16-year old daughter. We all know that I'm a bit of a crybaby, but this book is poignant in a whole bunch of places. Even you macho men out there might shed a tear or three. It's that good.
Katie's childhood was rough. It's a small spoiler alert to tell you that her mother was an alcoholic and left a very young Katie, along with her older sister Sarah, to fend for themselves frequently while she was holed up in her room after excessive alcohol consumption. The girls sometimes had to take care of themselves for several days at a time. It's a smaller spoiler alert to tell you that when Katie's mother came to live with her and her daughter, there were many unresolved issues between Katie and her mother. The less-than-a-year experiment with all 3 in the same house may not have been everything Katie hoped it would be, but it did have some far-reaching benefits. You're just going to have to read it to find out more. Trust me on this one. I didn't give it a 4, but I am giving it a solid 3.5.
Besides the amazing story itself, Katie is one fine writer. I want to give you a few examples of her excellent writing.
I love this one. Katie is talking about her 16-year old, Zoe, and her cell phone. She called it "a teenager's Binky."
Katie's mother used to have a lot of men in their house (Katie's mom and dad divorced when the girls were young). Her mom would casually say that there is a "man in my bedroom." Katie compared it to Richard Nixon, saying that he lost his presidency because of "some fellows in an office building."
Another time, when her mother was still living with Katie and Zoe, Katie got a bad case of the flu and was really sick all night. She got an offer of a house visit from a good doctor friend, and she also had a boyfriend at the time. Katie said: "Besides, I don't want Carolyn. And I don't want Bob. I want my mother."
Very late in the book, Katie is describing emotional pain. She says: "I once heard that the way we let in emotional pain is like the eye's response to light. When the brightness is too intense, the iris - the circular ring of muscle that surrounds the pupil - contracts to protect the eye. Then the iris muscle starts to relax, and as it does the pupil gradually opens, letting in a little more light at a time, until the iris stops constricting altogether. This is when we see our world for what it is."
Katie paints very vivid pictures. She not only tells a true story that will grab you (I was grabbed even during the prologue), she also writes very well. And, on top of that, I didn't see any spelling or grammatical errors. I love that!
People, you may think I'm raving about the book because I saw Katie a few months ago at a book signing at the Larkspur library. Or because she will be appearing at Village House of Books this coming Thursday, November 21, at 7:00. But, no. This is a book to add to your TBR pile. In fact, push it up there to the top of the heap. You'll thank me that you did.