“I thought it was an easy read.”—Book Club member
It’s interesting how the same book can seem different depending on the reader. Sometimes it’s different to the same reader at different times. Occasionally I re-read books from my past, and the unchanged text becomes a mirror reflecting what has changed in my experience. Experience colors interpretation.
This month’s book club selection was Missing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates. As others pointed out, the title has a triple meaning. The narrator is oblivious to her living mother in the beginning, then realizes the hole in the social fabric of her community created by her mother’s death, and finally feels the emotional pain of personally missing her in the narrator’s own life.
The mother is missing because she was stabbed to death in her own home. Two years ago, my aunt Julia was stabbed to death in her own home.
My experience colors my interpretation. This was not an easy read.
We live in a strange culture. We believe in Manifest Destiny, the moral rightness of democracy. The individual has a voice that matters. We are all important. We are all unique.
The flip side to that coin is that when there is no one else who is like us there is no one else who can understand us. We are born alone, we die alone, and if we can’t make emotional connections based on shared experience, we live alone.
Murder is not unique, and I am certainly not alone in feeling its aftermath, but it’s not something that is easy to talk about. Uniqueness exists even among those with whom we share DNA, and we all grieve differently. It can be hard to find common ground.
In a way I found Missing Mom cathartic. I found an emotional connection. I relived pain and it relieved pain. By reading an accurately rendered year of post-murder emotional experience condensed into 434 pages I was able to see patterns in the grieving process that previously were not apparent to me in the 847 days I’ve lived since Julia’s death. I realized that I am not yet whole. Moreover, I realized that some of the behaviors and thoughts I’ve been struggling with over the past two years may be the natural offshoot of an unnatural death as opposed to a unique failing in myself. That is a comfort.
As I said before, murder is not easy to talk about, and I chose not to talk about my experience with it with the book club. The woman who picked the book felt bad that it upset others, and I didn’t want to make her feel worse. She didn’t know about Julia. Besides that, I didn’t know if I could speak about the book in a detached way, and I’m sensitive to the fact that turning into a quivering blob is a party foul of the first order.
I’m actually grateful to have had the obligation to a group to finish this book. Otherwise I would have stopped in the extraordinarily uncomfortable first pages and missed the benefit of seeing the patterns.
I thank God for giving me the ability to express myself in writing. I thank God for giving me you who read what I write. You remind me that I am not alone.
That is both a comfort and a blessing.
Categories: Brain Workouts
Tags: Joyce Carol Oates, Missing Mom
Lynn, I was profoundly touched by your comments. If it makes you feel any better, I am often a quivering blob (try a re-read of Cry the Beloved Country or Les Miserables, for example). Thanks for reminding me that there’s lots more than complex, erudite thoughts that can make a read “hard.”
Thanks, Helen. I really am glad I read the book. It’s helped me process things I wasn’t even aware needed processing.