The author of six novels and two short story collections, Mary Gordon has again integrated her unflinching, fiercely honest prose style with elements of biography and memoir, (as she did to much acclaim in The Shadow Man: A Daughter's Search for Her Father) to create a multidimensional portrait, this time of her mother, Anna Gagliano Gordon.
In Circling My Mother, she writes interwoven chapters about her mother's life in different circles: her mother and female friends, her mother's association with Catholic priest friends, with her father, and her mother and family, particularly her sisters. "The Gagliano girls," Gordon laments in discussing her mother and aunts, ". . . should have come to better ends." Certainly her mother's end is bitterly long and cruel alcoholism, followed by the slow, irretrievable loss of connections, the isolation of a deepening dementia her last, oblivious years spent in a nursing home. "In the end, she couldn't even remember the songs she had loved, or the movies she had seen. She didn't even remember my name. But our ends are not the summation of our lives."
As Gordon circles back through her mother's history, the life that emerges is one of a brave, proud woman, who, despite being crippled from childhood polio, began working at 17. It is the story of a widow, of a struggling single mother, bringing the great world . . . a place she vaguely apprehended to her only daughter through music (songs like "Getting to Know You" and "Lullaby of Broadway"), movies they both loved (Gigi, It Happened One Night, Love in the Afternoon) and her ability to dream things her family wouldn't have dreamed of dreaming.
Her mother's passing may have been long and painful, but by having the courage to write Circling My Mother, her daughter allows us to see Anna Gagliano Gordon as beautifully alive and vibrant, a source of inspiration and encouragement to a successful author-daughter, ultimately turning a frayed ending into a full circle.