A perfect book for Mothers Day

Marci & Graham hugsNo matter how old you become, your mother loves you and sees the little child she raised. It’s so hard to let go. Much of What You Don’t Know Now explores that relationship.

This is me, hugging my son (the second youngest of four). It looks like he’s sitting on my lap — he’s not. He’s a grown man with three children of his own. And he’ll probably want to kill me for using this photo. (Too bad! I’m your mother and I’d let you sit on my lap if you wanted. Heh.)

Mothers Day is coming.

I think most about my own mom, who died in 2005. As some of you may know who’ve heard me talk about writing the book, it took me a long time to finish it. While I was writing the ending, my mom was in a long-term care hospital.

Those 16 months that she was there were a nightmare for me. I was with her (a 40 minute drive from my town) about 4x a week. Many nights after being at the hospital, I’d dive into writing my novel — I wanted to be with Bridey, Tilla, Corinne and Sara, traveling with them in their world. The world I was creating.

Someone said at a book club I visited that she was afraid, as she read the book, that Tilla was going to die.** This made me so happy!

Tilla, Bridey’s 38 year old, pretty mother, is one of the antagonists in this novel. (The other is a sub-antagonist, Riordan Clarke.) Tilla is over-protective, the youngest of the three sisters in the book, who lost her mother at a young age. Tilla struggles with many things – for one,  the attitudes she sees developing in Bridey’s generation in 1967  vs. her own:

“You kids think you invented existence. Like nothing ever happened before you were born. But I guess that’s our fault. We hand you your lives on silver platters.”

Tilla fails herself and (she feels) her daughter by not standing up to a man who threatens them.

“I always thought that if anyone ever threatened my children, I’d kill him. But all I could think about was paying him, so he’d let us go. I didn’t want to make a scene. A scene! I didn’t even want to scream, for God’s sake. When I think of what he might have done, that he may have had a weapon…”

Very early on in the story, the roles of parent and child start to slowly shift, as they do in a girl’s life.

Tilla falling down hard with a man who’s attempting to extort money — onto a cobbled street — sets up her gradual condition of increasing pain and debilitation as they travel.

The more out of commission her mother becomes, the freer Bridey is to do what she wants to do, something she both rejoices and feels guilt about. Because she’s 18 and has that sense of invincibility and self-centeredness lots of 18- year- olds feel, Bridey figures her mom will always be fine — her mother always has been:

Her mother’s hand felt bony and cool in her own. How funny it felt to be the one sitting over the bed, and not the sick little one in it, thought Bridey. Tilla’s presence, her voice and touch were magic medicine when Bridey was sick – calm, strong, gentle. There had never been a demon Tilla couldn’t banish, no symptom she couldn’t relieve, no pain she couldn’t soothe.

Tilla’s fear grows and grows on the journey. She fears being a vulnerable female traveling through cultures she’s only heard about, so “American in her prejudices” as Bridey would put it. She fears losing her daughter to college in a big city, She has a young son at home just a few years away from the dreaded draft and war in Vietnam. She’s afraid Bridey will make mistakes and get hurt.

She fears the powerful attraction Bridey has with Alessandro, the way he lights her daughter up and draws her in. She fears where that could lead.

But all of this is out of a fierce love for her child.

What You Don’t Know Now is a little portrait of mothers and daughters and all that relationship encompasses. In it, two women face the choice of giving up what you most want to keep.

I finished the book after my mom died. This one passage most describes my own real relationship with my mom:

Bridey’s face crumpled and she crawled wordlessly onto the bed. She rested her head on Tilla’s chest and was enfolded in her arms, back beneath her wings. Tilla smoothed Bridey’s hair and kissed the top of her head. They stayed that way for a while, quiet and alone. Bridey breathed in her mother’s scent, the fragrance of unconditional love and security. Tears slid from her eyes, and Tilla brushed them from her cheek.

If you’re looking for a gift for Mothers Day, this might be just the thing.

** PS Does Tilla die? You’ll have to read the book to find out. It made me happy that one reader got caught up enough in the characters to worry about Tilla.