This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.
“Everyone talks about the extension of people’s life span as a miracle we ought to rejoice at. The extension of some people’s life is a killing of other people in their best years.”
Set in modern day Croatia, Mothers and Daughters opens with the sixty year old narrator’s husband enjoying a garlic-infused meal and a glass of white wine. The reader will learn that the smell of this gastronomic combination brings with it a reminder of the narrator’s late father. Such memories are hard for her to live with even after many decades.
The woman has recently installed her elderly mother in a top notch care home after the older woman suffered a stroke. The couple can afford the astronomical fees required and the narrator could not bear to look after her mother herself. This attitude makes her feel guilty, something her husband and friends do their best to assuage. Her mother receives quality care with staff always on hand to deal with the many demands being made by people raging against their frailties.
“When you enter the building you’re not hit by the smell of crapped diapers, dirty old skin, urine, and the stench of rotting human beings noisily putrefying.”
The narrator’s mother had been hooked on prescription drugs, not her first addiction, and complains constantly of pain now that her medication has been withdrawn as unnecessary. She refuses to walk to the bathroom and asks for her food to be puréed and spoon fed. She berates her daughter for not killing her before life came to this.
The daughter remembers how her mother has treated her throughout her life, especially the moments when she looked the other way. In a country where domestic abuse is rife but rarely acknowledged, victims are expected to accept their suffering unless they can independently afford to leave.
“How long does trauma last? Anxiety? Regret? Anger? Powerlessness? Sorrow? Self-pity?”
Through one hundred short chapters the reader learns of the narrator’s pivotal experiences, from childhood to the present day. She is now married to a kind and supportive man. They travel frequently and he urges her to relax and allow the expensive carers to deal with her mother’s continuing complaints. The narrator cannot switch off the guilt she feels at putting her mother in a home rather than caring for her herself. If thoughts towards the old woman verge on the caustic there are valid reasons, yet she cannot bring herself to accept what was clearly necessary. As she endlessly broods over her options, aware of her mother’s unhappiness, she ponders how she is not so far from old age herself. The denouement contains an unexpected sting in its tail.
The relationships between parents and their children are complex and demanding whatever their age. This short tale explores the bonds and the blame forged from a shared inheritance and its indelible difficulties. There is bitterness in the writing but also a pathos born of a need to live with oneself after decisions have been made. There is much to unpack around the causes and effects of parental actions and their repercussions in shaping a grown child’s thinking long term.
Given that care of the elderly often falls to daughters and not all mother-daughter relationships are loving this is an interesting exploration of an increasingly problematic issue. The author pulls no punches in portraying the grotesque elements of aging bodies and the resentments felt by both elderly parents and their children. Although well written it was not an easy story due to its honesty and lack of smoothing over the cracks that are widely felt but rarely acknowledged, perhaps for fear of public approbation.
Any Cop?: Thought provoking and fearless, this is reading to challenge societal expectations of adult daughters, whose back stories cannot be assumed.