Powerful memoir by the adult easy child daughter of a lifelong difficult child mother

Discussion in 'Parent Emeritus' started by mrsammler, Jun 28, 2011.

  1. mrsammler

    mrsammler Guest

    I'm not sure what the protocol is for recommending a forum-relevant reading material here, but here goes: I'm reading Tara Bray Smith's wonderful memoir, "West of Then: A Mother, A Daughter, and a Journey Past Paradise," and I think it would be very interesting reading for many of the forum participants. It's the nonfiction account of an adult daughter of a difficult child mother (the mother's GFGness having begun in her early teens, or even before--all the early signs were there), recalling her very erratic & problematic childhood in Hawaii with a mother--a classic difficult child--who simply never grew up, and whose life was marked by addictions, homelessness, prostitution, and all of the other problems associated with an adult difficult child's lifestyle. Tara's account is fascinating, at times harrowing, and always powerful and drenched in a peculiar kind of pathos--a grossly imperfect, sad life lived in a tropical, sun-drenched paradise where homelessness and addiction are all too easily absorbed in a climate that's relatively easy on the homeless and a social culture so marked by the transience of a tourist population that the homeless become largely invisible within it. Perhaps most interestingly of all, it's an account of Tara's return to Hawaii in '02, at age 32, to search for her homeless mother, who's been missing and unheard from for a half year, lost somewhere in the bowels of the state's shadow-world of homeless shelters, prostitution, addicts, petty criminals, and so on.

    I'm finding the book especially fascinating after having had my own experience with a family difficult child and having read the accounts of so many mothers of difficult children here--it's the life story of a difficult child *mother* from the vantage point of her easy child daughter, now grown up, and the daughter's understandable struggle in loving and forgiving and dealing with a mother so chronically wayward and foolish and now, in haggard late middle age, vulnerable and damaged. Very powerful stuff. Highly recommended.
  2. Hound dog

    Hound dog Nana's are Beautiful

    Ohhh. Sounds like a good read. I'll watch for it.

    I read one a while back about twins, one was schizophrenic the other wasn't. The story was of them growing up together, the easy child brother dealing with the difficult child brother ect. Very interesting. Especially since I'm the daughter of a schizophrenic mother it was cool to see it from another perspective. And since the disorder manifests in different ways, that was also interesting. I think the author was Charles Lamb but with my memory, don't bank on it. I can't recall the title although I bought my 2nd hardback copy not long ago. I'll have to see if I can locate it so I can put the title here.
  3. dashcat

    dashcat Member

    MrSam, I'll have to check that out...not only from the standpoint of a better insight into the lives of difficult children and their families, but also from my utter fascination with Hawaii. I've read that there is a huge homeless population there - from which the government and the public turns their heads. In the late 60s and 70s it was a haven for peace-loving surfer Hippies - some grew up and some never did.

    Another good read about growing up within a difficult child familiy is The Glass Castle by (I think) Jeanette Wells. It's beautifully written and the author - who grew up in horrific cicumstances and still managed to become a more-than productive adult - writes with acceptance and without even the slightest hint of rancor.

  4. mrsammler

    mrsammler Guest

    Hound Dog, you're remembering Wally Lamb's "I Know This Much Is True," which is, as you note, a terrific and harrowing read.

    Dashcat, I met Jeannette Walls at an author talk in Raleigh a few years ago. During Q&A, someone asked her how in the world she could possibly forgive her mother (a difficult child through and through, to be sure), and Jeannette said, "Because I came to realize that she's just a child." I was very impressed by that--that kind of calm acceptance instead of the fury that I struggle with regarding my nephew difficult child. I should confess that Tara Smith is a friend of mine from my teaching days--we taught English at the same private school--and I mentioned to her, a few weeks ago at a social occasion, what Jeannette Walls had said, and she sighed sadly and agreed. Her mother, at 61, is still very much a difficult child.
  5. mrsammler

    mrsammler Guest

    And Dashcat, there is no better book on Hawaii than this one. Seriously--it captures the feel and look and smell and ambiance of the place like nothing else I've ever read--even better than Joan Didion's famous essay "From Here to Honolulu" in her book The White Album. You'll love it.
  6. Hound dog

    Hound dog Nana's are Beautiful

    mrsam that's the one! Well, I got the Lamb part right. lol

    Oh, boy! Now I have two new books to look for..... Maybe I can get our bookstore to order them for me.
  7. dashcat

    dashcat Member

    MrSam, I vividly remember Joan Didion's essay. If this even comes close, it will be well worth the read. I'm going to try and order it from the library and, if I can't, I'll order it from Amazon.

    Jeannette Walls is truly amazing. Her ability to see her mom in that light is something to strive for, yet hard to imagine. She's written another book about her grandparents. I heard part of an interview with her on NPR. It seems that she has plenty of material for books right in her family tree!

    Hound, Big Wally Lamb fan here. That book stayed with me.
  8. CrazyinVA

    CrazyinVA Well-Known Member Staff Member

    I will definitely add it to my shopping cart. I loved The Glass Castle, and am amazed at Jeannette Walls' strength and character. Especially since she's also written some pretty humorous columns, quite a contrast to that book. I figured like many of us, she learned to depend on her sense of humor often when dealing with a difficult child.
  9. DDD

    DDD Well-Known Member

    Thanks for sharing. Perhaps it will benefit me in dealing with almost 50 years old GFGmom. DDD
  10. Steely

    Steely Active Member

    Jeanette Walls and Wally Lamb are some of my favorites. I am impressed that you have met jeanette. Very cool. Another great memoir writer about having a difficult child mom is Mary Karr.....she has written 3 awesome memoirs, each one better than the next.
  11. Mattsmom277

    Mattsmom277 Active Member

    I'm so glad you posted this topic. I'm an avid reader anyhow but as a easy child with a difficult child mother of my own, this book sounds like something I would gain a lot from reading. I will try to find it in digital form for my ereader or check if my library has it. Thank you!
  12. mrsammler

    mrsammler Guest

    Regarding Jeanette, I asked her where her mother lives now, and she said that she (Jeanette) owns a big place in northern VA (Jessica Lange is a neighbor) and has installed her mother in a cottage on the back of the property, "where I can keep her in my sights and take care of her but not have to spend any more time with her than I can stand." A healthy (but requiring some cash, natch) sitch, I think.

    Dash: I too recall Didion's essay vividly--a really fine piece of writing, capturing the sense of "place" of Hawaii very memorably. But I can assure that Tara's book leaves it flatly in the dust in terms of capturing Hawaii in every possible way. The only thing I've ever read that contends with it in terms of this (i.e., capturing Hawaii's ineffable "thing") might be Jim Jones's great novel "From Here to Eternity," but of course it's very dated and focuses heavily on barracks life at Pearl Harbor rather than the entire Hawaiian experience. Didion's essay was a direct attempt at updating Jones's presentation of Hawaii as an experience. But again, Tara's book whoppingly tops both of them. A must-read for a) daughters of difficult child moms and b) Hawaii-wonks. And not necessarily in that order, but it works.
  13. 1905

    1905 Well-Known Member

    The book sells at Barnes and Noble for as little as 1.99, with shipping, 5.99.
  14. dashcat

    dashcat Member

    Ordered it from the library!
  15. Nomad

    Nomad Guest

    I loved the Glass Castle.
    Have always wanted to read I Know this much is True.
    and this one sounds great.
    Between "I know this much is true...." and the one you just posted here....which one is your favorite (at least a little bit). I am stretched for time at least at the moment and hopefully can get to both at some point.
    Thanks for your post and thanks in advance for some advice on this.
  16. mrsammler

    mrsammler Guest

    Get West of Then. Along with the looking-for-missing-and-homeless-difficult child-Mom story there's a rich evocation of Hawaii as a place, a troubled postcolonial history (which Tara uses as a kind of metaphor for, and comment upon, the descent of her own family line from former prominence to its current raggedy condition), and a "paradise" within which lurks a shadow-world of homeless addicts, of which her mother is one. So there's a lot there--a richly layered story, and beautifully & powerfully written.

    I admit to a bias, of course, as Tara is a friend of mine, but even if she wasn't, I'd be every bit as impressed with the book. Highest marks, says this former prep school English teacher. :)
  17. Nomad

    Nomad Guest

    Thank you....headed for amazon or to the library....but looking to get the book in my hands! :)
  18. KTMom91

    KTMom91 Well-Known Member

    I have read both The Glass Castle and I Know This Much Is True, and both have strong points. I also enjoyed Half-Broke Horses, also by Jeannette Walls, about her grandmother. I wondered if Grandmother's fierce independence and amazing strength was what began breaking Rosemary down.

    I'll look for West of Then...it sounds interesting.