A young widow who lost her mother takes solace in an unusual medium—a series of 16 confessional letters.
Kaiser’s deeply touching one-way correspondence has one ostensible purpose: to ask her dead mother for advice on communicating with her father. She doesn’t want to find herself writing more questioning missives to him after he’s gone. But these letters read more like diary entries; the author chronicles everyday happenings and free-associates them with standout childhood memories. In each, Kaiser divulges her admiration for her mother, who wrangled a household of eight children with nary a smudge of her omnipresent bright red lipstick and who made time to read to her brood each night; later in life, she maintained a Beanie Baby loaner library for her grandchildren. Kaiser expresses much gratitude, but she also feels compelled to explain times when she pulled away. “This next sentence is hard to write,” she confesses, “but somewhere in my growing up I learned not to expect emotional comfort from you.” She also wants to apologize for never taking her mother for a pedicure. A loved one’s absence amplifies the quotidian alongside bigger existential questions, and Kaiser captures that dichotomy with candor and grace. She owns up to her personal shortcomings, fashioning herself as a totally relatable narrator, much as Anne Lamott has done in her memoirs. Kaiser’s direct voice, steeped in the kind of wisdom that develops from experience, hints at the fact that she has performed these letters onstage; each letter a monologue, their shifts in emotional tone certainly would make for a compelling one-woman show. In book form, however, they leave the reader wanting more; much back story seems to have been deleted for the sake of a crisp delivery. Expanding each chapter to fill in gaps between the colorful vignettes would improve the work.
Kaiser asserts her endearingly honest voice in this slim volume, raising profound questions about family and death, though the epistolary format constrains its narrative potential.