A frank and valuable remembrance, and a good coping manual for parents.

MAMA, MAMA, ONLY MAMA

AN IRREVERENT GUIDE FOR THE NEWLY SINGLE PARENT—FROM DIVORCE AND DATING TO COOKING AND CRAFTING, ALL WHILE RAISING THE KIDS AND MAINTAINING YOUR OWN SANITY (SORT OF)

A memoir of marriage, divorce, and single motherhood.

Lillibridge (Girlish, 2018) recounts, in often funny and sometimes-wrenching detail, the story of her second marriage. (Her first, disastrous marriage is only sketchily mentioned throughout.) She also remembers the birth of her two sons, here nicknamed “Big Pants” and “Tiny Pants,”; the first stirrings of her desire to write; and the life lessons she slowly accumulated by being a single mother, sharing custody. The chapters are interspersed with shorter but similarly themed blog posts and recipes that impart simple, useful information to other single parents with wry, quippy humor. In her description of preparing Lean Cuisine Swedish meatballs, for instance, Step 3 is: “Stab package several times with sharp knife (or the scissors on your desk if you are at work) to vent the package and relieve some of your latent rage. If you do not have any latent rage you probably won't relate to anything in this book and might as well stop reading now.” Parenting pointers are likewise phrased with a dark humor that’s reminiscent of Erma Bombeck’s work: “Lock the children in the closet until you are finished cleaning, or their eighteenth birthday, whichever comes last.” Lillibridge skillfully interweaves these deadpan bits with often searingly honest reflections on her own shortcomings during her marriage; her depiction of the slow, undramatic dissolution of a relationship is one of the most moving sections, with the author rationalizing a bad situation until she simply can’t anymore. Single parents, in particular, will find this book’s combination of humor and heartbreak to be irresistible.

A frank and valuable remembrance, and a good coping manual for parents.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5107-4356-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2019

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AN INVISIBLE THREAD

THE TRUE STORY OF AN 11-YEAR-OLD PANHANDLER, A BUSY SALES EXECUTIVE, AND AN UNLIKELY MEETING WITH DESTINY

A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York.

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socio-economic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4251-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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