In a dramatic memoir, Sexton (Private Acts, 1991, etc.) offers her account of life with suicidal poet Anne Sexton. This...


"SEARCHING FOR MERCY STREET: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton"

In a dramatic memoir, Sexton (Private Acts, 1991, etc.) offers her account of life with suicidal poet Anne Sexton. This highly personal account complements Diane Middlebrook's 1991 biography of Anne Sexton, and even textual overlaps can be intriguing. For example, Middlebrook places one of Anne's suicide attempts near Linda's Harvard dormitory room but across from the office of Barbara Schwartz, then Anne's therapist. Here Linda simply omits Schwartz from the scene, thus highlighting her own importance to the story. One of Linda's primary themes is in fact her attempt to extricate herself from her mother's dependence on her. The childhood scenes Linda paints (including seeing her mother masturbate) most often terrify her and her younger sister, Joy. Anne's depression and instability make a poor match for her husband's volatility: She taunts him, and he beats her as the children look on. Writing with the immediacy of the present tense, Linda notes than when Anne spanks her, ""she never counts. She just does it till she isn't angry anymore.... I hate her. I hate me."" Linda responds to such chaos by imposing order in her own small ways, eating precisely one piece of Halloween candy each day or tidying the house her mother ignores while she writes. Linda even tries to take care of her mother, but it is not until she reaches high school that they become friends: ""At last she seemed to like me."" As Linda matures, she learns about writing, particularly from Anne and her friend Maxine Kumin, but she also struggles to free herself of her mother. Even after Anne's suicide, Linda finds her life linked to her mother's, most directly in her work as literary executor, but most disturbingly in her own struggle against depression and her battles to maintain her equilibrium when dealing with her own children. In deceptively fluid prose, Linda explores her complex relationship to her mother and strips raw the nerves of a troubled family.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 1994

ISBN: 1582437440

Page Count: 320

Publisher: "Little, Brown"

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994