In this debut memoir about family and acceptance, a daughter’s lifelong search for normalcy is overshadowed by the antics of her mentally ill mother.
At 16, homecoming queen Sharon Hicks watched her mania-driven mother disrobe in the middle of a department store. In an anecdote that inspired the story’s provocative title and cover design, her mother paraded nude down the escalator, shouting obscenities to perplexed security guards. Hicks goes on to recount a youth and adulthood stocked with similar episodes, beginning in the 1940s and extending to the late ’90s, when she and her family shared the burden of caring for her mother—bailing her out of jail, dealing with doctors, and cleaning up messes, both figurative and literal. Through every event in her life—two abusive marriages, childrearing, numerous sexual liaisons—Hicks keeps one thing in the back of her mind: She mustn’t become her mother. But she takes this pursuit too far, not realizing for many decades that her mother’s freethinking spirit is actually an admirable attribute. Hicks writes honestly, sparing none of the gruesome details related to her mother’s behavior or her own poor decisions, and readers will root for her to prevail. She analyzes situations with beautiful language (“The air around Mother warped and then expanded, like a balloon being stretched beyond its capacity”) and conveys emotions with well-crafted personification: “Resignation introduced itself and shook my hand.” Only occasionally does wordplay go overboard, as in a couple of cringe-worthy sex scenes, and the second half of the story drags at times, with Hicks perpetually dissatisfied by her life and her mother’s repetitive episodes. But the most compelling part of the story is the conflict of opposing forces: normalcy versus lunacy, mother versus father, etc. Ultimately, Hicks yearns for maternal love and attention even after her wealthy father buys her the fancy house and traditional life she thought she wanted. Interestingly, the book also serves as a record of mental health treatments and the development of patient rights as the century progressed.
Artful and affecting if a bit long-winded.