WHITE DRESSES by Mary Pflum Peterson


A Memoir of Love and Secrets, Mothers and Daughters
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In a debut memoir, a former CNN reporter and current Emmy Award–winning Good Morning America producer recounts her family’s painful history.

Before Peterson was 10, both her parents had suffered mental breakdowns; her father, after two suicide attempts, finally confessed to his wife that he was gay. After the couple divorced, her mother plummeted into severe depression. For months, she was hospitalized, while her daughter expressed her own pain by reverting to bed-wetting. When her mother returned home, although as warm and loving as she always had been, her spirit seemed broken. Her weight ballooned, she no longer cared about her physical appearance, and, most alarming, she let the house become overrun with debris: newspapers, unopened mail, dirty dishes and clothing, dust and grime. When appliances broke, she failed to get them fixed. The kitchen, Peterson recalls, “began to take on the feel of a used appliance museum.” For college, Peterson left her Wisconsin home for Manhattan and then moved to Atlanta, Germany, and Turkey on posts for CNN. Each time she returned, however, she saw her mother increasingly overwhelmed with trash, refusing Peterson’s offer to help, to hire cleaners, or to find another place to live. Even her car was stuffed with garbage, and the house became infested with mice, chipmunks, bats, and insects. For years, the toilets did not work, causing an acrid stench. As the author’s career took off and as she married and had children, her mother deteriorated, barring everyone from the house and denying that she was a hoarder. Peterson reminded her of their shared love of white dresses, “a way of starting over…a way of wiping the whole slate clean.” But her mother was incapable of renewal, and she died trapped by depression, loneliness, and chaos. Peterson’s generous homage to her mother offers an empathetic look at a baffling, frustrating mental illness.

A candid, moving memoir about the many complexities of family.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-238697-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2015


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