A Mother’s Tale

Phillip Lopate

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction -

Mad River Books Hard­cover $24.95 (196pp) 978-0-8142-1331-5

Lopate’s sto­ries of his mother paint a rather bleak por­trait of the dark side of the Amer­i­can dream.

Phillip Lopate’s A Mother’s Tale re­veals the au­thor’s com­plex re­la­tion­ship with his mother, Frances, through es­says that show vividly her harsh life and strug­gles to over­come eco­nomic and so­cial ob­sta­cles con­fronted by most women whose lives spanned the twen­ti­eth cen­tury.

Lopate di­rects Columbia Univer­sity’s non­fic­tion MFA pro­gram and has writ­ten sixteen pre­vi­ous books, and this one fur­ther bur­nishes his rep­u­ta­tion as a highly re­garded es­say­ist. Th­ese es­says are based on tape record­ings with his mother in 1984, when Frances was sixty-six and Phillip was forty-one. What makes the di­a­logue memorable is the ex­plicit, no-holds-barred ban­ter be­tween the two. Fran­cis graph­i­cally de­scribes her un­ful­fill­ing sex life with her hus­band, Al­bert, and details her nu­mer­ous af­fairs, not usu­ally shared be­tween a mother and son.

This is not a happy, feel-good mem­oir, as son and mother grap­ple to come to terms with their es­trange­ment; be­fore Frances died in 2000, she, Phillip, and Al­bert each at­tempted sui­cide. Read­ers will em­pathize with Frances, whose par­ents died be­fore she was ten. One of eleven chil­dren, she was shut­tled among unlov­ing sib­lings. Frances, al­ways ca­reer ori­ented, found some suc­cess as a beau­ti­cian and in run­ning two candy stores and pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dios, and she found joy in her true love—show busi­ness—

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