Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Ties That Bind:
Family and the Shaping of a Woman’s Identity
. . . reviewed by Gail

“The role of daughter, sister, and/or mother dramatically shapes who and what a woman will become and how she will live her life.”

“A woman’s experiences with the female relationships within her nuclear family determine who she will be today and tomorrow. “

“The close personal relationships (both positive and negative) and female bonding within the intimacies of family prepare women for the rigors of life and the complex relationships that will ensue.”

As a daughter raised primarily by a single mother, a sister to two older female siblings, and a mother of two daughters (who are sisters to one another), I can affirm with absolute certainty that these relationships have indeed made me the woman I am today and will continue to shape my identity.

What We Keep by Elizabeth Berg, I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass, and Things I Want My Daughters to Know by Elizabeth Noble capture the essence of the beauty, fragility, competitiveness, heartache, and solidarity of the bonds between mothers and daughters and sisters.

What We Keep by Elizabeth Berg
Two sisters growing up in the 1950s share a multifaceted love/hate relationship. One night, Ginny and Sharla overhear their distraught mother screaming at their father about her unhappiness and telling him that she is miserable and never wanted children. Their mother leaves, only to return a few months later to explain that she is never coming back. Although both girls tacitly agree not to forgive their mother, Sharla, the older of the two girls, is more stalwart in her position, while Ginny harbors romantic delusions of who her mother was. Sharla is furious with her mother, yet Ginny is heartbroken and always seems to make excuses for their mother’s erratic behavior. Over the years, the two sisters maintain a loving, yet distant relationship. Thirty-five years after their mother’s abandonment, Sharla calls Ginny to explain that she is awaiting the results of a cancer test and perhaps it is time to reconcile with their mother, with whom they have had no contact. In flashbacks, the author revisits the sisters’ childhood and examines the impact their mother’s leaving has had on them. Domestic details, the duality (strength and fragility) of the bond between sisters, and the inescapable tie that exists between a mother and her children are accurately and vividly portrayed. Berg pointedly examines the roles and relationships of mother and daughters and sisters and shows how forgiveness and reconciliation are possible. Elizabeth Berg's website.

I See You Everywhere
by Julia Glass
Louisa and Clem Jardine are as opposite as two sisters can possibly be. Louisa, the older sister and conscientious student eventually seeks marriage, children, and classic domestic sensibility, while Clem is lured by wild pursuits in both her career path and her love life. Told through alternating voices, the sisters recount very different versions of their lives from 1980 to 2005. The Jardine sisters share a complex bond always trying to outdo the other while simultaneously seeking approval from the sister they supposedly abhor. Glass’s well-drawn female characters embody the true meaning of sisterhood and the two-sided nature of the sister’s relationship makes for a compelling read. This is an engaging, intelligent, funny, and thoughtful novel with a surprising conclusion. Despite the Jardine sister’s differences, the ties that bind the two cannot be severed and, in the end, the love they share for one another can never be denied.

Things I Want My Daughters to Know by Elizabeth Noble
Four sisters, ranging in age from fifteen to thirty-eight, struggle to construct meaning from their mother’s demise as they comb through the letters and journal their mother left after her death from terminal cancer. Noble’s tearjerker novel will resonate with all mothers, daughters, and sisters, who recognize the importance of these female relationships within the intimacies of the nuclear family. Through their bereavement and soul-searching, the four sisters come to understand how their individual relationships with their mother and each of the sisters have shaped the women they have become. Without each other, they would not be the women they are. This novel provides a nice harmony among sadness, humor, regret, forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope. Things I Want My Daughters to Know is a fast-pace satisfying read. Elizabeth Noble's website.

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