Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way by Ruth Reichl
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Expecting a comedic Shit My Dad Says diversion? Keep moving. Not Becoming My Mother is not the book you're looking for.
Having read another of food critic Ruth Reichl's books, I rashly assumed this too would be light-hearted and humorous. It's not. In fact, it's a rather depressing look at the repression that became the keystone of her mother's life. Instead of quirky-funny stories about a mad-capped mom as might be expected by the first few pages, the reader is treated to sad tales of psychotherapy and antidepressant drug addiction.
While not a hoot of a read by any means, this is an insightful cautionary tale, the sort to give any feminist the willies. Ruth's mother grew up in a time when American women fought for suffrage rights, were not allowed into the male-dominated business world, tasted the ironic freedom of hard labor during WWII, and then had it taken away and replaced with the surprising drudgery of doing absolutely nothing. A life of idle boredom was the spoils of war for middle class women in America, and the long, slow death of Ruth's once creative and ambitious mother.
Through discovered letters, Ruth pieces together her mother's past, learning the hows and whys behind her mother's odd behavior. Not Becoming My Mother is at times touching and heartbreaking. It is also short and feels a tad perfunctory, like a feature story Reichl the journalist extended beyond the normal allotted newspaper article word count.
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