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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, May 11, 2003

Books Focus on Relationship Between Mother, Child

"Mothers, Can't live with them, can't live without them," to paraphrase Renaissance philosopher Erasmus. Or how about, "A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother" (author unknown)? And, from psychologist and suffragist Florida Scott-Maxwell comes a quotation that is particularly poignant after a recent visit with my own mother, "No matter how old a mother is, she watches her middle-aged children for signs of improvement."

At any rate, it's Mother's Day, and here's a sampling of recent fiction featuring mothers.

The Quilter's Legacy by Jennifer Chiaverini (Simon & Schuster, 2003).

The fifth in a series of quilting novels finds Elm Creek Quilts founder Sylvia Bergstrom Compson on a quest to find five heirloom quilts made by her deceased mother.

Sixty-something Sylvia lives a rich and satisfying life in the hills of beautiful rural Pennsylvania, running the successful Elm Creek Quilt Camp. Friends both young and old surround her, but she wants something more, and so accepts best friend Andrew's offer of marriage even though she's worried about his grown-up kids' reactions.

When a trip to the attic to look among her mother's quilts for a possible wedding bed quilt leads to the discovery that all the precious creations had been sold many years before by her financially-strapped sister, Sylvia sets off with Andrew on a dual-purpose cross-country trip to California. They will both personally inform his family of the coming marriage as well as track down leads on the missing quilts.

This is a quietly involving story with likeable characters, a plot that seamlessly weaves back and forth between the 1920?s and the present, and a wealth of quilting lore.

Motherhood is Murder (Avon, 2003).

Four of today's top mystery writers contributed to this paperback original collection of mini-mysteries featuring crime-solving mothers. My favorite, by veteran author Carolyn Hart, stars the mother-in-law of Hart's continuing character, bookstore-own-cum-sleuth Annie Darling.

In her fifties, but endowed with great bones and style as well as fearlessness and brains, Laurel Darling Roethke finds that "Mothers Must Do" when she helps a young friend who is being framed for murder and is thus in danger of losing custody of her small son.

The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman (Ballantine, 2003).

Goodman follows her best-selling debut, The Lake of Dead Languages, with a second thriller.

New Yorker Iris Greenfeder yearns to become a published writer. Her mother, before dying mysteriously in a long-ago fire, had created an entire world within a pair of acclaimed fantasy novels. Iris, who abandoned a degree in literature short of finishing her dissertation, satisfies herself with part-time teaching jobs and a lukewarm artist lover while awaiting the Muse.

After a small literary journal picks up one of her stories, Iris returns to the massive old hotel in the Catskills where she grew up to research a biography of her mother and uncover a possible third novel in the fantasy series.

This is a fun-to-read old-fashioned gothic, with a variety of characters -- including a new lover -- threatening both good and evil.

The Disapparation of James by Anne Ursu (Hyperion, 2003) and The Boy on the Bus by Deborah Schupack (Free Press, 2003).

Written in a style reminiscent of Alice Hoffman, both of these well-written novels explore the torturous and tenuous ties that bind mothers to their children.

In "The Disapparation" five-year-old moderately autistic James actually vanishes when picked from the audience to appear in a magic act. His pediatrician mother anxiously awaits his return, vowing to accept him "as is." In "The Boy," Vermont housewife Meg finds that the young boy Charlie being dropped off at her doorstep is not the frail asthmatic child who left on the school bus that morning.

Both novels plumb the depths of family dynamics, paying particular attention to the pains of motherhood.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.