Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Story My Mother Told Me: review

The Story My Mother Told Me is a novella by Ruth Egan, an online friend of mine. It tells the tale of a daughter, Chani (pronounced like "Cheney," not "tchah-ni," as in the character Chani from Dune), who discovers, at age 28, that her life has been founded on a series of strategic lies. Chani has a fulfilling job as a newspaper editor in Indiana, but goes to Florida for an extended trip when she learns that her mother, Cass, has ovarian cancer. Chani uses this opportunity for closeness to explore her mother's life; she meets her mother's best and oldest friend, and experiences a series of shocking revelations that turn her previously secure and ordered world upside-down.

The story is written in simple, evocative prose; it touches on themes of love, family, sexuality, death, betrayal, and forgiveness. Pacing throughout is brisk and no-nonsense; the action moves forward in a rapid succession of bite-sized chapters. Although the revelations lead us somewhat into fairy-tale territory, Egan never violates our suspension of disbelief by making events ridiculous: nothing in the story is implausible. What Egan does instead is subvert the fairy-tale template, turn it on its head: the protagonist discovers her true pedigree, but the emotional cost of that discovery is painfully high.

I read The Story My Mother Told Me in two quick sittings. The book was hard to put down, partly because a major element of the plot was Chani's mother's cancer, a notion that has personal relevance. The characters in the book are real, very human, and subject to the moral weakness found in all people who make compromises and weather dire crises. If you have the time and the inclination, I highly recommend that you buy a copy of Egan's sweet, touching little novella (available through Amazon) and give it a read.



Bratfink said...

I am shocked spitless. You didn't have to write a review of my [stupid little] book!

I am honored you took the time to actually read it.

Thank you!

Kevin Kim said...

I don't know why you're so down on your own book, Ruth. It's a great read. Not my normal fare, I admit-- I usually get into SF/fantasy-- but I've been known to read the occasional "chick" book, like Amy Tan's The Kitchen God's Wife. Your book was easily as readable and engaging as Tan's.

So when do we get the sequel?

(By the way, I like how the book's front cover didn't make total sense until I was near the very end of the story.)

Unknown said...

Why would anyone that sets out to write a book in the first place, and publish it; call it stupid?

Kevin Kim said...

At a guess: modesty. You might reply that modest people don't do things like write books-- they keep to themselves and act in shy and retiring ways. I'd say that the human character is more complex than that.

Look at the paradox of an actor like Harrison Ford: he's enjoyed decades as an A-list celebrity, but hates being interviewed and making public speeches. I don't know whether Ford qualifies as modest, but there's something paradoxical about wanting to perform and yet wanting to avoid the limelight outside the production studio.

At the risk of condescension, I'm willing to grant Ruth the right to be as complex or self-contradictory as she wants to be.