Motherland A memoir of love, loathing, and longing

Elissa Altman

Book - 2019

"Elissa and Rita have forever struggled to find their place in each other's worlds. Rita, an overreaching, makeup-addicted, narcissistic Manhattan singer couldn't be more different from Elissa, her gay, taciturn New England writer daughter. Stuck in an outrageous maelstrom of codependency, mother and daughter cannot seem to extricate themselves from the center of each other's lives. Motherland is their universal story: a kaleidoscopic journey built on the ferocity of mother-d...aughter love, moral obligation, and the possibility and promise of healing. Having survived a harrowing childhood at the hands of her mother, Elissa is finally settled in Connecticut with her wife of almost twenty years. After much time, therapy, and wine, Elissa is at last in a healthy place, orbiting around her mother, but keeping far enough away from her to preserve the independent, quiet life she has built for herself. All of this is suddenly at risk when Rita, whose days are spent traversing the streets of Manhattan from Bergdorf's to Bloomingdale's and back again, suffers an incapacitating fall that leaves her fully dependent on her only child. Forced to confront her mother's desperate need for beauty, her view of the world through a medley of men, her lost days in the spotlight, addiction, and the money that has mysteriously disappeared in the name of maintaining her youth, Elissa must navigate the waters of their shared history, obligation, the problems of caregiving and age, and the frenetic, co-dependent love that has defined their obsessive relationship. Motherland asks the universal mother-daughter question: How much love is too much love?"--

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Subjects
Genres
Autobiographies
Published
New York : Ballantine Books [2019]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
249 pages ; 22 cm
ISBN
9780399181580
039918158X
Main Author
Elissa Altman (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

What is it about mothers and daughters? Can't they just get along? Not if they're Altman and her beautiful, narcissistic mother, Rita. A one-time model and television singing star, Rita seems to be a cross between Cruella de Vil and Norma Desmond. Never without makeup, she wants her writer daughter, who resembles her father, to look and dress like her—to be her, perhaps. No chance of that, of course, which only exacerbates the uneasiness of their relationship. A wonderful set piece about Altman as a teenager attempting to teach her preening mother tennis sums it up: "The O.K. Corral with Tab and grosgrain headbands." Although this is Altman's memoir, Rita is definitely the star. Readers do learn bits and pieces about the author's life, but even then it's through Rita, who, for example, is furious that Altman comes out to her father before her; and, though Altman is in a committed, long-term relationship, Rita (naturally) dislikes her wife. Yet in the end, Altman calls her book a love story. And so, in its introspective, psychologically acute way, it is. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

James Beard Award-winning blogger Altman always kept her distance from her self-centered, shopping-obsessed, overly made-up singer mother, Rita. Then Rita had a bad fall. Based on Altman's Washington Post column "Feeding My Mother." Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Washington Post columnist Altman (Poor Man's Feast) shares the intimate and fascinating story of her alternately loving, turbulent, and toxic relationship with her mother. Growing up in 1970s Forest Hills, Queens—the only child of a publishing executive father and a former model and nightclub singer mother—the author was sent conflicting messages: while her mother Rita critiqued her daughter's weight, clothing, and overall appearance, her father treated her to lunches at upscale restaurants and bought her a tweed suit and oversized coat. Altman adored her parents (who divorced after 16 years of marriage), but was nevertheless troubled by their idiosyncrasies, particularly those of her mother—a narcissistic woman who was addicted to purchasing and applying makeup and obsessed with weight, persistently urging Altman to slim down, get her highlights done, and be more like her. Altman's relationships with others, meanwhile, would only heighten her mother's competitive nature: she disapproved of Altman's friends and lovers, is jealous of her relationship with Altman's father, and is irritated ("like lemon in a paper cut") by Altman's graphic designer wife Susan, even after 19 years. Throughout her life Altman struggles to balance devotion to her mother with a need to maintain boundaries for her own self-preservation, all of which comes to a moment of clarity when Altman decides to have children. Altman's memoir is an incisive look at complex mother-daughter attachments. (Aug.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"Elissa and Rita have forever struggled to find their place in each other's worlds. Rita, an overreaching, makeup-addicted, narcissistic Manhattan singer couldn't be more different from Elissa, her gay, taciturn New England writer daughter. Stuck in an outrageous maelstrom of codependency, mother and daughter cannot seem to extricate themselves from the center of each other's lives. Motherland is their universal story: a kaleidoscopic journey built on the ferocity of mother-daughter love, moral obligation, and the possibility and promise of healing. Having survived a harrowing childhood at the hands of her mother, Elissa is finally settled in Connecticut with her wife of almost twenty years. After much time, therapy, and wine, Elissa is at last in a healthy place, orbiting around her mother, but keeping far enough away from her to preserve the independent, quiet life she has built for herself. All of this is suddenly at risk when Rita, whose days are spent traversing the streets of Manhattan from Bergdorf's to Bloomingdale's and back again, suffers an incapacitating fall that leaves her fully dependent on her only child. Forced to confront her mother's desperate need for beauty, her view of the world through a medley of men, her lost days in the spotlight, addiction, and the money that has mysteriously disappeared in the name of maintaining her youth, Elissa must navigate the waters of their shared history, obligation, the problems of caregiving and age, and the frenetic, co-dependent love that has defined their obsessive relationship. Motherland asks the universal mother-daughter question: How much love is too much love?"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Relates how a gay, taciturn writer and her narcissistic Manhattan singer mother learned to navigate their codependent relationship when an incapacitating fall placed the latter in the former's care.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A gay, taciturn writer and her narcissistic Manhattan singer mother are forced to navigate their codependent relationship when an accident places the latter in the former’s care. The James Beard Award-winning blogger and author of Poor Man’s Feast. Illustrations.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

“I’m reading this book right now and loving it!”—Cheryl Strayed, #1 New York Times bestselling author of WildHow can a mother and daughter who love (but don’t always like) each other coexist without driving each other crazy? “Vibrating with emotion, this deeply honest account strikes a chord.”—People“A wry and moving meditation on aging and the different kinds of love between women.”—O: The Oprah Magazine  After surviving a traumatic childhood in nineteen-seventies New York and young adulthood living in the shadow of her flamboyant mother, Rita, a makeup-addicted former television singer, Elissa Altman has managed to build a very different life, settling in Connecticut with her wife of nearly twenty years. After much time, therapy, and wine, Elissa is at last in a healthy place, still orbiting around her mother but keeping far enough away to preserve the stable, independent world she has built as a writer and editor. Then Elissa is confronted with the unthinkable: Rita, whose days are spent as a flâneur, traversing Manhattan from the Clinique counters at Bergdorf to Bloomingdale’s and back again, suffers an incapacitating fall, leaving her completely dependent upon her daughter. Now Elissa is forced to finally confront their profound differences, Rita’s yearning for beauty and glamour, her view of the world through her days in the spotlight, and the money that has mysteriously disappeared in the name of preserving youth. To sustain their fragile mother-daughter bond, Elissa must navigate the turbulent waters of their shared lives, the practical challenges of caregiving for someone who refuses to accept it, the tentacles of narcissism, and the mutual, frenetic obsession that has defined their relationship.Motherland is a story that touches every home and every life, mapping the ferocity of maternal love, moral obligation, the choices women make about motherhood, and the possibility of healing. Filled with tenderness, wry irreverence, and unforgettable characters, it is an exploration of what it means to escape from the shackles of the past only to have to face them all over again.Praise for Motherland“Rarely has a mother-daughter relationship been excavated with such honesty. Elissa Altman is a beautiful, big-hearted writer who mines her most central subject: her gorgeous, tempestuous, difficult mother, and the terrain of their shared life. The result is a testament to the power of love and family.”—Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance