My Rating: 4/5
The story of how me and this book got acquainted is a bit of an unusual one. At least, unusual for me. But it may sound like every other story.
It was a rainy day in St. Louis. I was on vacation with my family and we were about to make our way home. But before then, we decided to make a few last minutes stops around town. I was pining for the Delmar Loop right next to Washington University. I craved an atmosphere similar to my beloved Mass Street with small shops housed in old buildings. I longed to walk into a brownstone and smell the age emanating off the walls.
In between snapping photos of Chuck Berry and the Walk of Fame while balancing an umbrella in my other hand, I came across this cute little bookshop: Subterranean Books. Taken over by a familiar and deadly passion, I marched into the store and spent a good hour betwixt the unfamiliar titles. Among this was this book: The Mother. Reading the summary, I was intrigued but not enough to buy at the time. But the book stayed with me long after I left St. Louis.
This book was emotionally wrenching in every sense of the word. I don’t often pick up books that is so wrought with visceral pain. Though I’ve read through stories about a single incident that comments on the nature of perception this is the one of the first stories I’ve picked up that I’ve seen the nature of loss explored within a socio-political and an inter-relational context so thoroughly. It’s a story about coping with a loss no parent should ever have to live through: the death of a child. It weaves the experiences and emotional journey of Marcie Williams in all its latent beauty and fierce bitterness.
When Marcie loses her son Ryan the world changes. Scenes like children playing in the park with chastising parents to navigating the minutiae of her daily life fill her with a sadness that seems too hard to take. Grief ravages everything: her hair, her marriage, her sense of belonging. And she has to relive the horror of that same loss by attending the trial of the boy who murdered him. She hears the testimony of her son’s last moments when he’s doing nothing but being a boy. The same boy he always was.
The story was really hard to put down. The revelations that came about through the trial were engaging while not being too overdramatic. I wanted to see if Marcie and her husband can eventually rekindle their marriage despite their horrible loss. I wanted to see how Marcie herself would grow from this experience. The book gave me an investment in these characters and I couldn’t recommend it enough just from that emotional connection.
When reading it, I was constantly reminded of The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds. Both books ruminate on grief while also showing the slow, painful process of healing. Both take place around troubled neighborhoods where death is a startling reality that exists everywhere due to the institutional failings of the powers that be. Poverty and gangs are a daily reality because it seems the only way to be something more than poor.
Reynolds novel takes the converse of what is presented in The Mother. Rather than a mother losing the child, the child loses the mother. The main character, Matt, is left with a big hole in his life and it’s hard to cope with the loss. Both of these are equally traumatic incidences. The books are wrought with a consciousness that pain ripples and is buried deep.
Ultimately, despite the pain, this book was a beautiful experience. It gives perspective to the lives that contrast so deeply from our own while also being not so far away. Read it please. You won’t be disappointed.
Editor’s Note: This is an edited review of one I originally posted on my CreativelyAddled site.