A curious compendium of self-oriented reflections on the four years Starkman helped care for her mother-in-law. The author gives herself and her mother-in-law new names- -Claire and Hilda Brenner—in the text, although what are presumably their real names, Elaine and Blanche Starkman, are revealed in the byline and dedication. In any case, this journal- -which the publisher calls ``fictionalized''—appears to be based on the real experience of a mother of four adolescent and college- age children, a sometime college teacher and writer who agrees to let her mother-in-law move in with the family. The arrangement lasts a year before ``Ma'' is put in a nursing home, where she spends three years declining until she finally dies. Starkman is strikingly honest about her feelings during this period: resentful of her husband's concern for, and time spent with, his mother; eager to pursue her own career but guilty about making it a priority; angry at her husband's sister and brother for not offering to take Ma in even for a little while. Once Ma is in the nursing home, the author's visits grow less frequent, though her husband continues to go every day. Fears of her own aging triggered by this deteriorating woman; discomfort and irritation at Ma's long silences and unpredictable outbursts; confusion, sympathy, and distaste as Ma's faculties erode—all are part of the mÇlange of feelings that many will recognize. But except for a half-dozen evocative poems, most of Starkman's confession comes across as self-pitying—and we deserve to know more about the colorful Ma, the remarkably loving son, and the business and politics of aging, if only in this particular family. Starkman's self-focus diminishes the struggles of thousands of other families trying to reconcile responsibilities to aging parents and growing children without strangling the creativity of the middle years.
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