Circling My Mother: A Memoir
There is no doubt that this is Mary Gordon's literary
remembrance of her actual mother. There should be no lawsuits or
discussion in the Oprah circles about its validity. CIRCLING MY
MOTHER is like talking to your closest cousin when you've both
gotten to be of a certain age; she tells you family secrets you had
never known about, you tell her those little ditties from your side
of the table, and you both can't believe that the people who
committed such acts are related to you. That's how Gordon's memoir
made me feel --- like these were people in my own family about whom
I was learning new facts. It's so close to the bone that I have to
stifle my desire to wrap it in a tourniquet and get the whole
shebang to a doctor immediately!
Anna Gagliano Gordon was a single mother, something of a serious
Catholic working-class mother who had no time for the pristine
pursuits of beauty that her daughter eventually wrapped her life
around. Instead, she appreciated a simpler life and dispensed
brusque yet experienced pieces of wisdom that Gordon never forgot.
But at the time of the book’s writing, Gordon's amazingly
resilient mom was suffering in a home. At an advanced age, she had
been exhibiting signs of forgetting, of not being able to live in
the present in the way she had in the past.
So Gordon tells us of the moments in her mother's life and of times
in their lives together when she learned what was really at the
heart and soul of Anna Gordon. CIRCLING MY MOTHER is
heart-wrenching in its details and the matter-of-fact pain that she
feels while watching her mother literally lose her grip on reality.
It is a remarkable achievement and one that is as difficult to read
as it is difficult to forget.
The moments when her mother let down her guard and Gordon is able
to relate to us a moment of tenderness between them give the story
even greater resonance. An emotional trip with her mother to Italy
(where she won the Catholic jackpot and was received by the Pope)
and Gordon’s own husband (on whom she was having an affair in
London) ends with a beautifully touching moment: "…she held
my hand in the darkness of the autostrada on the trip back to Rome.
The radio played Neil Diamond singing ‘Song Sung Blue’
and she told me it was a wonderful trip, she'd never forget it." A
simple woman dispenses simple praise and her anything-but-simple
daughter relays it so simply that you can only respond with a
simple swelling of your own heart. Simple, yes, but never
It is a testament to Gordon’s talent that she constantly
straddles the precipice over the cavern of Hallmark Card-dom and
never falls in. Her every word is explicit and specific, her every
feeling rendered so completely that if you finish CIRCLING MY
MOTHER and don't feel as if you know the people in it, you
couldn’t possibly have read the book.
An elegant woman who succumbed to alcoholism and then dementia,
Anna Gordon is compared to the painter Bonnard throughout. He said,
at the end of his life, "…people have no idea how to look
that they hardly ever understand." With this book, Gordon starts to
really look at her mother now that she is gone and finds herself
beginning to understand what could have been the greatest love of
her life. CIRCLING MY MOTHER is a beautiful and resonant work that
shows Gordon at the height of her literary powers.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on December 27, 2010