SKUNK STEW by Helen Parramore

SKUNK STEW

: A Memoir of a 1930s Childhood
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A memoir of a daughter’s relationship with her mother, a talented, strong, manipulative and vicious artist.

To hear Sis’s mother tell it–which she does often and loudly–she is a famous artist who single-handedly raised five children, nurturing them successfully from childhood all the way through college, forsaking her own personal needs despite the harsh strictures of the Great Depression. Sis’s version is a bit different–she agrees that her mother did indeed support the family after her husband could no longer find work through a mixture of artistic talent and questionable business practices (amidst painting drop curtains, Sis’s mother fleeced customers and smuggled booze). But the portrait Sis paints is not of a loving parent who sacrificed for her children. After Sis’s father committed suicide, her mother divided the family and farmed out her children to various relatives and institutions, so that she could enjoy a Bohemian lifestyle–living with her boyfriend, shooting pool and striding around in men’s clothing, all unheard-of in that era. When, decades later, nightmares awaken troubling memories, Sis must search through her mother’s innumerable lies for the truth of her childhood. Part biography, part autobiography, part period piece, part suspense story, part reclamation of an abusive childhood, part assertion of independence and part apologia, Skunk Stew could easily have become a vengeful refutation of a mother now deceased. Instead, the author writes with such generosity that her–demonstrably unrequited–love for her undeserving mother, despite her many failings as a parent, shines through. That despite her corrosive role model, Sis appears able to love her own family with an open heart untainted by bitterness, is little short of a miracle.

Uncertain in focus, but replete with sincerity and well-written anecdotes.

Pub Date: March 4th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-595-47671-8
Program: Kirkus Indie
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