"Missing Mom"

Missing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates

Missing Mom covers one year in the life of Nikki Eaton, a 31 year old newspaper columnist known for her off-beat attitude toward life. Her choices in clothes and hairstyles and her current romantic attachment to a man with a wife and two children are a source of frustration to her sister, Clare, and confusion to her mother, Gwen.

Shortly after the story opens, Gwen is killed in a horrendous criminal act in her own garage. The already shaky relationship between Clare and Nikki is pushed to the limits and beyond by the horror and grief they experience. Families, jobs, everything changes in the months following their mother's death as the police investigation continues and they wait while delay after delay after delay postpones the trial.

As Nikki deals with the aftermath of her mother's death, cleaning out the house and talking to relatives, she begins to see Gwen as more than just Mom - she was a woman with a life of her own, a woman Nikki can begin to relate to. But while she's moving closer to her mother, her relationship with Clare is falling apart. Neither sister understands the words or actions of the other and things deteriorate until they both lose the one person they might have had to lean on.

 Nikki is an interestingly written character; Joyce Carol Oates is an interesting writer. I don't think I've ever read such an in depth experience of grief. It's uniquely personal and goes on and on and is never really understood by others. And isn't that the way grief is? The things we do out of feelings of grief can be difficult for others to connect back to those emotions and as a result people get confused, impatient and angry with the grieving person. Grief is slow, and it isn't easy on anyone.

Though the story is sad, it's life-affirming too. The sisters grow in acceptance of people who think and behave differently than they do, Clare learns that the life you don't have isn't always better than the one you are living right now, and Nikki begins to grow up, becoming less self-centered, less careless about life and the people in it. It's a well-rounded story that takes you beyond the suffering and leaves you with hope for what's next.

In most books there are lines that jump out at me, lines I love for the truth they contain  or the way the words are arranged and it feels strange that I didn't find any this time. I didn't particularly enjoy Oates' writing style - it seemed abrupt or odd or...something...in places. I can't quite put my finger on it. I think we are meant to read it as Nikki's thought process and I understand that, still, I found it awkward sometimes. I probably won't remember the writing but the emotion, the grief, will be with me for a long time.

I recommend "Missing Mom". Most of us have mothers we will either lose one day or have already lost. Even if you've never had a mother figure in your life there is still the common to us all experience of grief that every reader will be able to identify with. I think this book has something for everyone.


John Michael Cummings said...

Dear Ordinary Reader:

I'm an author with a new collection of short stories, Ugly To Start With (West Virginia University Press).

Will you please consider reviewing it?

I've been writing and publishing for twenty years--more than one hundred stories and two novels--and Ugly To Start With is my best work.

My first novel, The Night I Freed John Brown (Penguin), won The Paterson Prize for Fiction and was recommended by USA Today.

My short stories have appeared in more than seventy-five literary journals, including North American Review, The Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Chattahoochee Review. Twice I have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. "The Scratchboard Project" received an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories 2007.

If you write me back at johnmcummings@aol.com, I’ll send you a PDF of my collection for your consideration.

At this point, my small publisher is out of available review copies, so I hope and politely ask that you consider the PDF.

I would be very grateful.

Thank you so much.

John Michael Cummings

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