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The Real Mother


The Real Mother

Three years ago Sara withdrew from Columbia's medical school and
returned home to Chicago to become a surrogate mother to her
younger siblings. Their mother, Tess, had suffered a debilitating
stroke that left her helpless, speechless, and confined to a
nursing home. Much of the story revolves around Sara, the main
character, juggling a full-time job, household responsibilities,
and emotional support to Abby, Doug and Carrie.

Each family member adds to the many layers of the story. Abby is
deep in the throes of teenage angst, Carrie is the keen observer
with a very creative imagination, and Doug, the youngest, lacking a
male role model, is confused. Sara continually wonders if she is
handling things the way a real mother would. There is no one to
advise her in her role as head of the household. Tess can only nod,
smile, frown, or look puzzled as she listens to Sara and the
children when they visit the nursing home and share the contents of
their daily lives with her. Tess is very frustrated being denied
what would otherwise be her proper role in the family she

The return of older brother Mack, who the family hadn't heard from
in more than three years, adds confusion, excitement and mystery to
the household. Mack, always a hotshot, lavishes extravagant
presents on the children and is flush with cash from some
mysterious job. One moment he is kind and caring with the children,
the next, sarcastic and cruel.

Sara becomes romantically involved with Reuben and carves out a
little free time to spend with him. Her occasional absences give
Mack the opportunity to encourage the children to side with him
against Sara. He assumes the parental role, which keeps the family
on edge and off-balance. Mack has an odd speech pattern; he
combines fast-flowing alliteration with vagueness, which makes him
hard to follow and nearly impossible to figure out.

Behind the scenes someone is trying to disrupt a major construction
project in which Reuben's firm is involved. The disruption is
well-organized and quite effective. At this point the novel becomes
part mystery. Who is the figure in the shadows at the
demonstrations? Why the opposition to the new development? What
really happened to Mrs. Corcoran, Sara's former client? The family
home is gutted by fire when no one is there. How did the fire
start? Where do you call home when your home is gone?

The reader will know all the answers by the end of this
hard-to-put-down book. The author is actually a writing partnership
of Judith Barnard and Michael Fain, husband and wife in real life.
Their writing is seamless; it is not possible to determine where
one writer left off and the other one picked up.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 23, 2011

The Real Mother
by Judith Michael

  • Publication Date: February 1, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0060599294
  • ISBN-13: 9780060599294