Book Review: Praise of Motherhood


As a way to prepare the reader I offer a quick summary from the back of the book:

Psychoanalysis, poetry, and confession all merge to tell the story of an ordinary woman whose death turned her into a symbol for extraordinary motherhood.


Reading this book made me feel like I was meeting a very delicate and vulnerable person and needed to be careful not even to think the wrong thing, lest I shatter a carefully constructed façade. You are in the middle of another person’s most painful and complex thoughts at a terrifying and lonely time. I strongly encourage anyone who picks up this book to read the introduction by Caleb J. Ross as preparation.


One of the beautiful things about this book is how the author managed to present so clearly the intimacy of his relationship with his mother and the experience of remembering her in grief. I have never before read a book where the voice of someone who has already passed comes to life so convincingly. By the end of the book I thought of the author not as “Phil Jourdan,” but “Philippe,” the child she loved.


The author narrates from the perspective of an impetuous young person, and as such insists upon breaking many of the usual rules and conventions which results in various delightful effects. At one place a dream is rendered with all its unsettling details from the beginning, and expected bits of punctuation are left out. Chapter eleven deserves an especially close reading as a voice that is rarely heard from makes a brief appearance.


The best things, though, are the passages that introduce us to the distinctive intelligence at work and a powerful honesty. Early on the author presents these words:


The taboo of the child enamored of his parent is easy to misunderstand. The vulgarity of treating love as a purely sexual thing should be dismissed immediately. To be in love with your mother does not have to mean what common parlance would have it mean. When she died, I tried to think up things about my mother that I found repulsive: there was little. Perhaps, then, I had idealized her to such an extent that I was, in the literal sense, in love with her.


 


Passages like this set the reader up to understand that though expected rules are not followed, though we are often in the mind of someone who is very troubled, we know the author is in control of every device and trust that our careful reading will be rewarded.


One unique aspect of this book is a sense of extreme intimacy with the workings of another mind and the trials of another soul. This is what makes Praise of Motherhood so important.


For more information about Phil Jourdan or Praise of Motherhood please visit: www.slothrop.com.

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