Typically I won’t read the jacket blurbs until I’ve finished reading the book, and so while I had definite expectations of Rae Meadows’ novel, Mothers & Daughters, I had no idea—beyond the title and a friend’s recommendation—about what to expect. There was lots to love right away with this writing: the initial setting in Madison, Wisconsin (where my husband went to college), a common but uniquely described scene of a mother’s first time leaving her baby with a sitter, and foremost, Meadows’ easy precision that paints clear action and images, and draws quick and deep characterizations. In terms of plot, I don’t want to be the spoiler for those who also don’t read jacket blurbs, but I can say that the second chapter, at first jarring, took my breath away and then the third did the same. And then I couldn’t put the book down.
Meadows masters the nuances in marriage and family relationships with sensitivity, subtlety and striking accuracy. I come away from this relatively short book having experienced a broad range of emotion with its characters, from the heady surprising love of one’s baby to a late-blooming romance, to the slow simmer (and all that that implies) of companionship, to the complex comforts of long marriage and between siblings, and disappointment, confusion, loathing, grief, guilt, rivers of unspoken longing, wrenching pity and hope. Add to that frustration of procrastination, aimlessness, perseverance, determination and courage, and it equals an unforgettable story. For me, it recalls a phrase in Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior: “I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” This is a story filled with the kinds of paradoxes we deal with daily, and paradoxes that preceded us and unknowingly added richness to our lives, richness of the kind that can be exactly found in this book. You must read Mothers & Daughters, by Rae Meadows.