Only every daughter and son alive today should read this book. The message is universal: Live long enough, and you'll finally understand your parents.
Pick it up just on the basis of that oversimplification, however, and you'll have wonderful surprises in store. Alix Kates Shulman (author of Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen and nine other books, including children's books) has written one of the most tender and insightful books yet in this era of moving, if sometimes mean, memoirs. Demonstrating her characteristic mastery of language (which she attributes to her father), she traces the history of her relationship with her parents from early dependency (hers) to rebellious independence (hers) back to dependency (theirs). At 20, she always assumed the worst about them and pursued for many years that all-American ambitious lust for freedom, which impelled her to identify her family with everything I'd renounced, even though, as she later perceives, it was in large part their upbringing that set her direction.
Only in her sixties, faced with the necessity of taking charge of her parents' lives, does Shulman allow herself to look squarely at the facts of her relationship with them. Complicating the picture is a strain of regret about an unresolved relationship with her adopted brother who died while they were estranged. As we accompany her on this painful journey, through the most complex dimensions of past and present, of did and should, of felt and thought, of missed and learned, we share with her the fresh, yet age-old lesson of the precariousness of independence, the limits of self-reliance, and, in the end, that in the scales of fulfillment, devotion may sometimes outweigh freedom. Not that Shulman has abandoned the hard-won feminist insights that inform her earlier books. Only that she has broadened them to achieve a level of understanding and wisdom that sometimes elude more doctrinaire writers, a supportive rather than adversarial position. And finally she proves indeed to be a good enough daughter. The message here for readers is plain and simple: Call home now.
Maude McDaniel is a writer in Cumberland, Maryland.