MOTHER AND SON by Jeremy Seabrook
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A Proustian accounting of an all-encompassing relationship. Sociologist Seabrook (What Went Wrong? 1979) situates himself and his working-class mother in an earlier era of British capitalism before it assumed a social-welfare role, ""leaving individual women free to pursue self-expression through the private satisfactions of work or relationships; or leaving them, especially those of my mother's generation, feeling bereft and functionless."" But while Seabrook was growing up it was mother--an all-giving, all-demanding mother--who set no limits to her love and would tolerate no complicating emotions in return. ""Our mother could endure no negative feeling from us; and what I failed above all to learn from her was the essential duality of caring. . . ."" Attempts at rebellion fizzle. When he's caught stealing money from her bag for sweets, young Jeremy is told he could have asked for it. His dependency comes to seem to him like a dark room in which he's tethered at the center, unable to reach the defining walls. ""I could be neither as good as I was required to be, nor as bad as I wanted to be. My dependency was complete."" While the focus remains on mother, other adults and children glide in and out of view. There's the first day of school and a teacher who doesn't notice when Jeremy refuses to eat: ""The indifference of the school was my first hint of a discrepancy between the concern of home and the absence of it everywhere else. It seemed to me an outrage."" In a bizarre episode, Jeremy's wayward father and his tarty girlfriend steal Jeremy and his twin brother away, and the woman insists they regard her as their new mother: ""The sudden volatility of this role was intriguing. Our mother had always given us to understand that she was irreplaceable; you only have one mother, whom you don't appreciate until it's too late."" And then there emerges Jeremy's preference for boys and his tendency toward other dependent relationships: ""I was like an empty cistern, receiving the overflow of people who were themselves without limits."" A book much like the bond itself, at once ironic and compassionate, delicately cruel and loving.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1980
Publisher: Pantheon