This debut memoir offers a glimpse into the world of horse racing and a detailed account of abuse.
Cooper grew up in suburban Maryland through the 1960s and ’70s. With six siblings, her family, particularly her mother, was very active in the community and the Roman Catholic Church. Her father was a well-known jockey; other jockeys and trainers often visited their home and Cooper’s family often traveled to attend races. On the outside, the family seemed vibrant, successful, and caring. But most of Cooper’s story occurs inside the house where her mother regularly abused all seven children, physically, verbally, and psychologically. From a young age, Cooper called her “our mother,” refusing to connect herself with this “tooth-clenching, red-faced, angry monster.” Her recollections of abuse are harrowing and infuriating. The children were beaten with a hairbrush or potato masher often because they didn’t clean the house to perfection. Cooper was beaten because her young brother fell down a hole in the woods. She was often beaten and peppered with obscenities for no apparent reason at all. Cooper asks whether readers need another book on abuse but her memoir offers more than “misery lit.” She shows how abuse from a parent is particularly insidious and damaging. Mostly, she and her siblings accepted their lot. Cooper is clear that she hated her mother and wished her dead. Yet she felt she could only fight back by leaving, which she did through marriage. Despite the title of the book, her father played a minor role and did not intervene. The author does not question this. Even as an adult with two children of her own, Cooper could not turn away her still abusive mother at Thanksgiving. And although she “often wondered” what caused her mother’s behavior, she doesn’t delve into family history or medical explanations. This reflects a time when mental illness was not discussed but it also, quite poignantly, reflects the inner turmoil of a child abused by a parent, the “battle with conflicting hatred…and longing for the nurturing aspect.”
Readers may want more explanations, but even the gaps in this well-written, engrossing book about an abusive mother are revealing.