My plan for this post, all week, has been to list my rankings of the most memorable mothers in literature. It was easy at first. Molly Weasley, Marmee, and Matilda’s Mrs. Wormwood. It got a bit tougher as I moved to adult memoir, but of course there’s Deirdre Burroughs from Running with Scissors, Rose Mary Walls of The Glass Castle, and, on the side of good moms, Alice Trillan and Joan Didion (whose odes to her daughter are breathtaking and heartbreaking).
And then I tried to list the most memorable mothers of adult fiction. And I got stuck. Ma from Room is still in my head. So is Mary Lee Johston from Push, the novel that the movie Precious was based on, and the role for which Mo’Nique won an Oscar. And then…. um. I got nothing. Zilch.
Obviously I haven’t read every book out there. And I’m sure I’m forgetting some obvious mother characters, but I can’t think of any other standout fictional moms in adult literature. (Other than, of course, Deb Erika’s fascinating characters. Duh.) Why is that?
Is it that writers have so many mommy issues in real life that they want to escape them with fiction? Do authors think mothers are by definition too not complex to be characters?
Recall, even on Sunday, when the Debs named our favorite moms in literature… all YA moms!
So, my friends, please help me fill the list. Let me remind you of the requirements. Said mother must be: Fictional. In adult literature. Truly compelling and complex and memorable.
And, also, to the fiction writers among you: Keep the moms in mind! They have stories to tell!
Ok, stepping off my soapbox.
But really: Help me fill out the memorable literary mom list. Pretty please.
5 Replies to “Deb Rachel Wonders Where All The Mothers Have Gone”
Oh, you. Thanks for that very kind endorsement!
I appreciate that you brought up memoir mothers–a rich group in itself. I wonder, as someone who writes fiction, if memoir mothers are allowed–even encouraged–to be more raw because those are often the relationships that are explored in memoirs. I think about my recent read of Alexandra Styron’s amazing READING MY FATHER and while the majority of the stories centered on her relationship with her complex father, she did delve often into her mother’s role in her life.
But then, when writing fiction we can make our characters as raw as they need to be, so long as we can justify that rawness with history, motivation, etc. I know I am always drawn to writing flawed characters more often than not. While Camille grew strong quickly, the mothers I have since written don’t have her sense of self, certainly not so young, and exploring that evolution interests me a great deal.
I’d put forward Melisande Shahrizai in the Kushiel series. Not exactly a warm and fuzzy mother, but a pivotal, complex and compelling character that readers either love or hate. Or, y’know, love to hate.
Gah – I’m drawing a blank here, especially as I hardly read books for grown ups these days! Though I did read ROOM, and the mother in that stood out big time. Her survival and protective instincts were very strong, but then we saw her break down, all shown through the eyes of her child. Amazing book.
Harlan Coben has written a great mother in his Myron Bolitar series — Myron’s mom, a former lawyer. (Can’t remember her first name offhand — Myron always thinks of her as “Mom.) I like Myron’s relationship with her; he unabashedly loves her (and his father, too), which is refreshing in a novel these days. In fact, Myron still lives in the basement of his childhood home. Trust me, this does not make him wimpy at all. 😉
The mother from The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver — very complex and sympathetic. And also the adoptive mother in Kingsolver’s books about the little girl Turtle. I just love Barbara Kingsolver.
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