“Like the cancer that had claimed her a week earlier, my mother has been like an illness to me, and eventually I’d had to cut her out.”
Toxic mothers create a strange condition in some children whether they’re a son or daughter and grown or still young. A mother/daughter relationship is a different entity entirely. There is often a yearning, a hunger for nurturing unfilled and often said children continue to try and forge a bond with the estranged mother long after it’s healthy to. Elsie’s mother Rachel was forced, at gunpoint, to marry Elsie’s father despite the fact she was pregnant with a dead man’s child, an ominous step into her future and one that darkened her mind. That isn’t the only shocking secret buried in her mother’s past.
As Elsie grew up to the cold shoulder of her vain mother who was always distracted by her own beauty, many flirtations and strange cult, Elsie learned not to expect any attention to be spent on her. Growing up too fast, her escape hatch a career in a dance company while still underage, her mother took no interest in her performances nor successes. Pushing her body to it’s limits, creating a family of her own among the close knit dancers, somehow her mother still managed to make her feel an unworthy, valueless failure. Rachel also manages to bring two men into Elsie’s life that alter the trajectory of her future and their relationship.
From her earliest memories, Elsie dreams of fire but there is no prodding that could open her mother’s past. Her mother’s brutal, calculated choices lead to a terrible betrayal between the two. Years of therapy, and her lover Ted’s affections can’t fix the broken pieces of her soul, constant motion is the only thing that keeps her sane. “For a long time, getting to the root of the problem only made me feel worse. I had too many loose threads , and it was dangerous to pull at them.” Rachel is a plague on her relationship with Ted, a man with an optimistic world view. He becomes a buffer between them, but in order to survive, she ‘cuts the cancer out’ completely. Not all women should be mothers, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are. Elsie’s hopes and dreams are ripped from her when she can’t create the family she needs to ‘rewrite’ her history, and so she abandons her future and Ted.
Barely having survived her mother, carrying a shameful trauma from her youth that was the seed of her mother’s biggest betrayal, she must return to the source of all the damage when her mother dies. Her choice is to take up the mystery her mother’s final message offers her, the ‘truth’ finally- or bury it with her. Elsie’s decision throws her on the path of the very cult that her mother devoted her life to, the very insidiousness that was the wedge in their relationship and the men that nearly destroyed Elsie. Everything she knew or had guessed about her mother will be turned inside out but will she be ready to learn the devastating truth about who her mother really was?
What makes this a riveting debut is the emotional autopsy the reader witnesses Elsie undergo through different parts of her life. It tackles a very sensitive subject, the complex bond between mothers and daughters is difficult enough, even in the best of relationships but when a mother is poisonous, narcissistic it is a chilling, barren world for the daughter. Somehow, it can seem like the coldness seeps into every cell of one’s being, turning every future hope into a frozen tundra. How does one evict the many cruelties suffered at a mother’s hands from one’s head? How does a woman dream of becoming a mother and doing it ‘right’ when she never knew a mother’s unconditional love? Just how much of an ugly past can forgive the sins of a mother? At the conclusion of the novel, I didn’t feel it altered my feelings about such a woman. Truth can be a balm that heals, understanding the full story of any life can sometimes give license to past mistakes but just how much? It’s not about whether or not the reader, or even Elsie, chooses to forgive, it’s about dissecting the deceptions, uncovering truth, and salvaging from the ruins some semblance of a life. This was dark, and heartbreaking. What is more painful that feeling abandoned by one’s mother?
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Prospect Park Books