An award-winning actor’s account of returning to her hometown of Dubuque, Iowa, to care for parents diagnosed with devastating terminal illnesses.
Lonely, drained, and exhausted, Mulgrew (Born with Teeth, 2015), who has starred in Star Trek: Voyager and Orange Is the New Black, was on a theater tour in Florida when she first received word that her father, Tom, had lung cancer. Years earlier, she and her siblings had learned that their mother was suffering from atypical Alzheimer’s disease. Now, the girl she had left behind in Iowa “suddenly kicked, and swam hard for the surface,” wanting nothing more than to return home and help her parents. In this powerful memoir, Mulgrew pays homage to her mother and father, their deep, at times troubled union, and the intense bonds she shared with each. She dedicates the first half of the book to her father, a charming alcoholic tormented by the fact that he “wasn’t a loser but…wasn’t a winner, either.” The author’s relationship with him simmered with tension over the years, and when his wife, Joan, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it was the author whom she named her health care guardian. In the second half of the book, Mulgrew tells the story of her mother. Though outwardly vibrant, Joan had been made inwardly fragile by the loss of her own mother at an early age. She married Tom, “who had wooed her with…tenacity” and promises of happiness, only to find mediocrity. His drinking drove her to take solo trips from home and temporary refuge in the arms of a handsome local priest. The author became her source of strength when death and disappointment marred her later life. Like Born with Teeth, this book is self-consciously literary and sometimes overwritten. Nonetheless, the narrative offers a rich, eloquent, and emotionally complex portrait of parent-child bonds and a colorful, unforgettable family.
On the whole, Mulgrew delivers another candid and moving memoir.