One of the most interesting aspects of literature is the ease with which it bridges the gap between relationships that define generations, particularly when the relationships are gender-specific. Tracing traits among a line of descent provides a measure of the progress and/or decline in various parameters of life. Ruth Reichl’s Not Becoming My Mother (Penguin Press, 2009) draws a perceptible line of circumstances and individual choices from the time her mother grew up in a conservative American society of the 1920s to her own life in a more emancipated status.
Reichl tells the story of how she finally decided to pen her mother’s diaries on the day of what would have been her mom’s 100th birthday, and she found bits of her own self strewn through the lines in the pages her mom wrote. Growing up in Cleveland, her mom had to choose between becoming a good wife or fulfill her potential as a person in the way she liked. As she opted for becoming what society expected of her, the woman left unfulfilled inside her chose to record her life’s gaps in words that would later fill the spaces discovered by her daughter in her own life.
Not Becoming My Mother is a book of deeply personal and highly valued relationships – that of a mother and child, and that of a person with themselves. It is a tribute to womanhood for all what this gender has been and how it has continued to come out of the haze of social standards set particularly for her. Aside from the exceptionally illustrative title cover, Reichl’s style of writing has a feel of immediacy and depth that goes to the core of her subject. It is a book for people who want to know their mothers’ lives and their own.