Rosemary Mild, |
Love! Laugh! Panic!
Life with My Mother
(Magic Island Literary Works, 2014)
We all seek connection. That's why we read biographies, autobiographies and memoirs. We want to compare our own experiences with somebody else's. Maybe that person had it "better," maybe she didn't. Maybe we did. We'd at least like the chance to find out.
Author Rosemary Mild is the daughter of Saul Kenneth and Luby Bragarnock Pollack. Her grandparents and parents settled in Milwaukee in the early 1900s, in order to join a community of other Jewish immigrants from Russia. Her mother Luby, who had arrived in America at age 5, eventually graduated from the University of Wisconsin and became a freelance journalist. She was a take-charge kind of woman. She was also a dictatorial mother to Rosemary and to her brother John. That's the general view that Rosemary explores in this dual-sided memoir.
Rosemary approaches their lives in a pseudo-thematic way, and not chronologically. She ruminates on aspects of her school-age years with stories seemingly as they surface. Also included are some of mother Luby's published articles, portraying incidents from home or spotlighting members of her family. In this way, we also hear her mother's voice in these pages as well. One chapter even contains memories offered by Rosemary's brother John. (Though the chapter title is clearly labeled, the resulting narrative can be suddenly confusing for readers who gloss over these little details and who expect Rosemary to be the ever-present narrator.) The climax (or biggest fiasco, depending upon your viewpoint) is Luby's push for Rosemary to participate in the official "coming out" process for high society debutantes. Yikes! Then, after a limited lifetime of enduring health problems, Luby dies of stomach cancer at the early age of 48. She passes on in the spring of 1957, when Rosemary is in her last semester at Smith College. We're all left with the idea of wondering What Was, and What Could Have Been.
I've read a number of memoirs in recent years, issued from both traditional publishing houses and from self-published authors. I have to admit that this one falls into the middle of the pack. It's not the best, and it's certainly not the worst. I found the back-and-forth storytelling style across the years to be rather choppy. Sometimes Rosemary is in Milwaukee, sometimes she's at Smith College in Massachusetts. Then she takes us back to Milwaukee again, and it's years beforehand. And by the way: Smith College and Northampton are not considered part of the Berkshires. They are instead located in the Connecticut River Valley, or in the Pioneer Valley, as it's more casually called. And Smith is not an Ivy League college. Those date mostly back to our country's colonial times and were traditionally established for men. Smith is instead one of the Seven Sisters: the largest one, at the moment. Rosemary's mother may have wanted her daughter to be associated with decent men, and preferably with Ivy Leaguers; but this expectation doesn't quite explain why she sent her instead to a prestigious all-girl school. I suppose this is just one more mystery about Luby.
Love! Laugh! Panic! is a quick book that can serve you well on an otherwise lazy afternoon. If you enjoy reading memoirs -- and especially if you are a woman who has had a love/hate relationship with your own mother -- you may indeed find some connection here. We can probably all appreciate the fact that Rosemary is finally gaining the kind of clarity that only time can bring. Now, more than 50 years later, she may be able to say that she is beginning to understand her mother.
book review by
Corinne H. Smith
19 April 2014
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