“The experience of motherhood loses nearly everything in its translation to the outside world,” writes Cusk, but that’s...

A powerful, often funny account of pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering that doesn’t gloss over the pain, mystery, and confusion—but does celebrates the wonder.

Britisher Cusk (The Country Life, 1999) brings her novelist’s sensibility to the story of her daughter’s gestation and infancy, and of her own evolution “from a woman to a mother.” All the usual suspects of new motherhood are here—colic, sleep deprivation, patronizing advice books, isolation, breast-feeding, babysitters from hell. As Cusk explores them all with disarming tales of useless advice and failed strategies, she also explores the painful transformation occurring in her, from a vital, engaged, well-regarded literary figure to a brooding and bewildered babyminder. Although the British support system for pregnant women and new mothers is renowned, she encounters what will be a nine-month siege of bureaucratic advice and detailed instructions on everything from making salads to making love (illustrated). Terrified of childbirth—and of becoming a mother—she seeks solace in like minds and sometimes in literature, including the works of Edith Wharton, Coleridge, and Charlotte Brontë. In a chapter titled “Don’t Forget to Scream,” she describes moving to a small university town where her infant launches into an adventurous toddlerhood and she into a life surrounded by other mothers enlisted into “self-abnegation.” Invoking Proust on the glories of sleep, she nevertheless wonders if the finally successful battle to teach her baby to sleep alone at night was really the right choice: For this is as much the eloquent story of her daughter’s struggle to find a niche in the universe and of a hard-won but wonderful relationship between mother and daughter as it is of grievances.

“The experience of motherhood loses nearly everything in its translation to the outside world,” writes Cusk, but that’s really not true in this account. Mothers and prospective mothers will find the experience as told here daunting—as well as intact, true, and whole.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26987-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2002



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


A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

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. 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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