Sunday, April 03, 2011

No mother lets go - why should she?

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, essay collections, humor, autobiographies

They say you should write what you know, and this author knows (1) dogs and dog hair, and (2) her daughter who just moved out. Not a bad combination. Lisa Scottoline (I think it has four syllables) has five dogs. Her daughter and co-author Francesca Scottoline Serritella has one, but give her time. The book, a collection of 700-word humorous essays, is My Nest Isn't Empty, it Just has More Closet Space: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman. Francesca wrote eleven of the seventy pieces/chapters.

While a core concept is that Francesca "recently" moved out to her own apartment, the pieces are as wide-ranging as you can imagine. Lisa has a squirrel mind, running hither and yon, burying one nugget only to dig up another, and write about it. I don't know what any of her novels are like, because this is the first time I've seen her in print (I read very few "mainline" mystery novels). But she writes about dogs (maybe a quarter of the pieces) and dog hair (three); her happy invention of Unresolutions, or resolving to do more of what makes you happy; her mother Mary (almost another quarter of the pieces), who admonished Francesca to always sing at the piano bar; and finds herself musing on a stretch of highway that boasts a sign it was "adopted" by a strip club. Finally, the title piece, which comes last, is about freedom. Being in the midst of it, we know, my wife and I; we don't have to think every little minute about the way our very next action will impact our son. He isn't here, and won't care, and gets bored if we try to tell him anyway.

So I totally get it, that life is about being who you are and learning, painful as that might be, to let everyone else be who he is or she is. Talking to your parent or your offspring isn't just about conversation, it is about connecting. Talking past one another is, by contrast, a tragedy. I reckon it helps that Lisa is Italian. They won't tolerate "talking past"; they'll talk until they get through, which is why, as she writes, keeping essays to 700 words was so hard: "I can barely say hello in 700 words." It is harder for those of us with that good old "British reserve," for whom creative silence has become an art form, but connecting is quite a bit more scarce. Thank God my son is talkative; if I just sit and look at him long enough, he'll spill his guts. It happens even faster if I can motivate myself to ask some leading questions, and this has enough reward that I keep doing it.

It is gratifying to see, in spite of the double divorce, the departure of Thing One and Thing Two, that the author and her mother and daughter remain close. A mother may always have "her little girl" ensconced in her heart, kept unchanging as the "little girl" grows to 24, 44, 64; but to give her the space to be a good companion even as the mismatches increase, is grace indeed.

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