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Good Memoirs Are Not Acts of Revenge

 

Are you searching for your next read? Keep reading below to learn more or watch the video all about this recommendation! 

[Video trigger warning: the recommended book mentions sexual abuse]


Like you probably do, I get my book recommendations from people I trust. I’m in several online writers groups and a member of one of those groups is Laura Davis, the author of The Burning Light of Two Stars . I heard enough buzz about the book in the group that I decided to check it out, plus the subject matter interested me.


It’s a story about a complicated mother-daughter relationship and the tension that can arise between siblings when one sibling is bearing the brunt of the care for an elderly parent. A story many adult children can relate to. I certainly can.

Key takeaways for readers and tips for memoir writers:

The #1 takeaway for me from this memoir is that it’s possible to reimagine a challenging relationship with a parent—it’s possible to both love a parent in the present—and at the same time not dismiss or ignore the pain of the past.

The author was estranged from her mother for many years—and then kept her at arms’ length for many more, after her mother first greeted her coming out as a lesbian news with “You’ve confirmed my worst fear about you.” Even after, this author is able to find a way to love her mother in her diminished, twilight years. Which gives hope to all of us.

Related to this point is a tip for memoir writers. The author does an admirable job of portraying her mom with both all her exasperating flaws and with compassion, which is not an easy thing to do. In this story, her mom is not the villain and the author is not the hero, although it would have been easy to write the story that way. Good memoirs are not acts of revenge—they are written to make meaning of a life or an experience.

How did the author know when she got it right? It took years and many drafts of her manuscript, which she shared with beta readers—people you ask to read your book BEFORE it’s ready for publication—and she always asked these readers: What did you think of the mother character? In the early drafts, the feedback she received about her mother was how awful she was. It wasn’t until the much later drafts that Laura started hearing more nuanced comments. That was when she knew she had landed in the right place.

A final takeaway: caregiving for an elderly parent can be brutal, especially for a parent with whom you have a challenging relationship. But then you find a book like this that shows other people who have done it and survived the experience, you feel less alone. More connected. Maybe you even feel a bit more hopeful. What a gift. That’s what a good memoir can do. It’s not about revenge—it’s about connection.

Who should read this book?

  • Anyone caregiving for an elderly parent
  • Daughters with challenging relationships with their mothers
  • Memoir writers who want an example of how to portray a challenging person with compassion

Here are some other memoirs about mother-daughter relationships to check out:

  • Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur
  • Are You My Mother? By Alison Bechdel
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
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