Wry account of a once-alienated daughter who becomes ever more entwined with her mother as the older woman makes a memorable decline.
Fuchs’s mother Lillian was always a force to be reckoned with. Born in 1908, she was the favored, blue-eyed daughter of a Jewish immigrant in the hat trade. She got into Radcliffe in the age of quotas, dropped out and married, then bucked convention again to become a divorced single mother who ran her own business. Seductive, a snappy dresser, and an unabashed narcissist, Lillian makes for a meaty protagonist. Fuchs herself seems perennially surprised by this woman who happens to be her mother; by turns, she’s bemused, frustrated, hysterical, terrified, angry, and entertained. Her memories of childhood are far from warm and cozy, but since she’s done just fine for herself by the standard measures of family and career, the discomfort of watching young Elinor left behind with her grandmother as her mother surges ever forward in her career is tempered by the knowledge that Fuchs is now a professor at Yale with two daughters and a life partner. In any case, there’s little room for pity or censure as the reader is carried along by a great story. Lillian, an adamantly independent woman all her life, finally needs to be taken care of. She’s mostly lost her mind, and although she’ll never really know it, she needs her daughter. Fuchs combines her account of the weirdness of caring for a physically competent, mentally absent woman with episodes from their shared past. Her brisk prose effectively captures Lillian’s energy, the oddities of communication that Alzheimer’s imposes, the endless grind of arranging and placating caregivers, and her own emotional landscape when she finds herself trapped in a state of emergency that lasts a decade.
It didn’t come cheap, but Fuchs has achieved a beautiful balance of humor and tragedy—all wrung from the same mess of real life.