Mother’s Day can be fabulous. And it can be fraught. Sometimes it can be both at the same brunch. To keep you company, whatever you are going through this weekend, here’s a list of recent books by Canadian authors that deal with the mother of all issues.
Old Babes in the Wood; Margaret Atwood (McClelland & Stewart)
What could be better for Mother’s Day than a short-story collection that includes an entire section titled My Evil Mother? “ ‘You’re so evil,’ I said to my mother. I was fifteen, the talkback age,” the eponymous story begins. The reader soon learns that this mother’s evil may transcend the usual eyeroll-attracting crimes of the mom of a typical teenager. Old Babes in the Wood is another Margaret Atwood triumph: incisive, insightful, hilarious and utterly readable.
Hold My Girl; Charlene Carr (HarperCollins)
Readers who have undergone fertility treatment may relate to the joys and sometimes irrational fears that accompany the process, as described early in this novel. But what if that supposedly unreasonable worry turns out to be true? In this novel, Charlene Carr, who is based in Nova Scotia, tells the story of Katherine and Tess, two women who must deal with an improbable, unthinkable connection.
Confessions with Keith; Pauline Holdstock (Biblioasis)
Bridget Jones meets Nora Ephron in this diarized account of Vita, a woman dealing with an unexpected plot twist after 20 years of marriage. Pauline Holdstock begins her tale on Mother’s Day, which doesn’t exactly elicit tributes or appreciation from the familial troops. Vita decides – out of spite, self-pity or pure practicality – to use the day to paint the stairs. “Martyrdom? Self-flagellation? Who knows.”
We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies; Tsering Yangzom Lama (M&S)
A sweeping epic that takes place in Tibet, Nepal and Canada, this novel explores maternal love, intergenerational sacrifice – and the trauma that may result. “For this freedom, our parents laid their bodies on the mountain paths,” Lama writes in this stunning debut, which was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and longlisted for the inaugural Carol Shields Prize for Fiction.
My Face in the Light; Martha Schabas (Knopf Canada)
“My mother is an artist and I am a liar,” begins this eloquent page-turner by former dancer and Globe and Mail critic Martha Schabas. When a mother chooses art over parenting and absents herself from her child, what kinds of scars does that leave on that child, who has also become an artist – and yes, a liar – in adulthood?
Thirty-nine fiction and non-fiction books to read this spring
Navigating the Messy Middle: A Fiercely Honest and Wildly Encouraging Guide for Midlife Women; Ann Douglas (Douglas & McIntyre)
Mothering is challenging: Add midlife complications such as divorce, menopause, career demands and existential crises, and you’ve got what Ann Douglas calls “an increasingly thick and messy stress sandwich.” In these essays – written from the author’s own perspective but also informed by interviews with more than 100 midlife women – Douglas, who is the creator of The Mother of All Books series, explores motherhood and so much more. Sitting down with this book feels like sitting around with a group of girlfriends.
Kinauvit? What’s Your Name?: The Eskimo Disc System and a Daughter’s Search for her Grandmother; Norma Dunning (Douglas & McIntyre)
When Norma Dunning – a Governor General’s Award-winning Inuk writer – was 8, she asked her mother one Saturday, “Mom, what are we?” Her mother’s response was: “Who wants to know?” The kids at the playground, it turns out. In 2001, when Dunning applies to the Nunavut Beneficiary Program to request enrolment, she imagines herself – and now her sons – back in that playground, answering the question with pride: “We’re Inuit!” But when Dunning follows up with the program, she is asked for her disc number. Disc number? Out of this question emerges a stunning memoir and investigation.
Reasonable Cause to Suspect: A Mother’s Ordeal to Save Her Son from a Kurdish Prison; Sally Lane (Dundurn Press)
“Paradise lies at the feet of the mother,” is a Quranic phrase that pleases Sally Lane after her son, Jack Letts, converts to Islam as a teenager. When Letts is 18, he travels to Jordan. The holiday has been arranged by Lane and her husband, hoping to positively channel their son’s interest in Islam and allow him to practise his Arabic. But later, he travels to Syria, where he is imprisoned. The British papers dub him “Jihadi Jack.” Then Lane and her husband are prosecuted under British terrorism legislation. “How could it be illegal to try to save our son’s life?” she wonders. A nightmare, all around, told in this compelling memoir by Lane, who now lives in Ottawa.
Superfan: How Pop Culture Broke My Heart; Jen Sookfong Lee (M&S)
In this powerful essay collection, Vancouver writer Jen Sookfong Lee braids her love and deep knowledge of popular culture with the, at times, distressing details of her own life – including her mother’s sometimes distant, harsh parenting. Lee’s own mothering is bolstered by and reflected through pop culture as she navigates divorce, single parenthood and a new set of circumstances. From Bob Ross to Diana, Princess of Wales, artists and celebrities Lee has never and will never meet face-to-face guide her through the worst (and best) of times.
Wine Witch on Fire; Natalie MacLean (Dundurn Press)
After 20 years of marriage, Ottawa-based wine writer Natalie MacLean is blindsided by a divorce. Then she is suddenly involved in a fair-use dispute. What is a suddenly single mother and vilified wine writer to do? She drinks. Too much, at first. Eventually recognizing this, she manages to reconnect with the passion for the grape that originally saw her leave her job in tech for a career as a blogging oenophile. Scoffing at the demeaning and misogynistic “mommy juice” labels used to market wine to people like her, MacLean also takes time during her midlife crises to ask difficult questions about the industry she writes about.
Holden After & Before: Love Letter for a Son Lost to Overdose; Tara McGuire (Arsenal)
North Vancouver author Tara McGuire has channelled her staggering grief over the death of her son into a powerful and inventive memoir. After Holden dies at 21 from an accidental overdose, McGuire investigates the circumstances, which she recounts here in beautiful and sometimes excruciating prose. But unable to retrieve all the information, McGuire also conjures some details, weaving fact and imagination together to paint a moving and vivid picture of Holden, without allowing his tragic death to solely define his life.
Ordinary Wonder Tales; Emily Urquhart (Biblioasis)
Motherhood is an uncouth disclosure at a picnic lunch, where one risks being shunned by a mom-friend for telling a ghost story in front of the kids. It is grief at pregnancy loss. It is uncertainty to be endured – and plague legends to be explored – during a pandemic. In these essays, Emily Urquhart – who has a doctorate in folklore (and is the daughter of Canadian author Jane Urquhart and the late painter Tony Urquhart, whose dementia is dealt with in the final, powerful essay) – explores childhood, motherhood and daughterhood with a sense of wonder.