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Motherland: A Memoir of Love, Loathing, and Longing

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"I'm reading this book right now and loving it!"--Cheryl Strayed, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wild How can a mother and daughter who love (but don't always like) each other coexist without driving each other crazy? "Vibrating with emotion, this deeply honest account strikes a chord."--People "A wry and moving meditation on aging and the different kinds of love be "I'm reading this book right now and loving it!"--Cheryl Strayed, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wild How can a mother and daughter who love (but don't always like) each other coexist without driving each other crazy? "Vibrating with emotion, this deeply honest account strikes a chord."--People "A wry and moving meditation on aging and the different kinds of love between women."--O: The Oprah Magazine After surviving a traumatic childhood in nineteen-seventies New York and young adulthood living in the shadow of her flamboyant mother, Rita, a makeup-addicted former television singer, Elissa Altman has managed to build a very different life, settling in Connecticut with her wife of nearly twenty years. After much time, therapy, and wine, Elissa is at last in a healthy place, still orbiting around her mother but keeping far enough away to preserve the stable, independent world she has built as a writer and editor. Then Elissa is confronted with the unthinkable: Rita, whose days are spent as a fl�neur, traversing Manhattan from the Clinique counters at Bergdorf to Bloomingdale's and back again, suffers an incapacitating fall, leaving her completely dependent upon her daughter. Now Elissa is forced to finally confront their profound differences, Rita's yearning for beauty and glamour, her view of the world through her days in the spotlight, and the money that has mysteriously disappeared in the name of preserving youth. To sustain their fragile mother-daughter bond, Elissa must navigate the turbulent waters of their shared lives, the practical challenges of caregiving for someone who refuses to accept it, the tentacles of narcissism, and the mutual, frenetic obsession that has defined their relationship. Motherland is a story that touches every home and every life, mapping the ferocity of maternal love, moral obligation, the choices women make about motherhood, and the possibility of healing. Filled with tenderness, wry irreverence, and unforgettable characters, it is an exploration of what it means to escape from the shackles of the past only to have to face them all over again. Praise for Motherland "Rarely has a mother-daughter relationship been excavated with such honesty. Elissa Altman is a beautiful, big-hearted writer who mines her most central subject: her gorgeous, tempestuous, difficult mother, and the terrain of their shared life. The result is a testament to the power of love and family."--Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance


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"I'm reading this book right now and loving it!"--Cheryl Strayed, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wild How can a mother and daughter who love (but don't always like) each other coexist without driving each other crazy? "Vibrating with emotion, this deeply honest account strikes a chord."--People "A wry and moving meditation on aging and the different kinds of love be "I'm reading this book right now and loving it!"--Cheryl Strayed, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wild How can a mother and daughter who love (but don't always like) each other coexist without driving each other crazy? "Vibrating with emotion, this deeply honest account strikes a chord."--People "A wry and moving meditation on aging and the different kinds of love between women."--O: The Oprah Magazine After surviving a traumatic childhood in nineteen-seventies New York and young adulthood living in the shadow of her flamboyant mother, Rita, a makeup-addicted former television singer, Elissa Altman has managed to build a very different life, settling in Connecticut with her wife of nearly twenty years. After much time, therapy, and wine, Elissa is at last in a healthy place, still orbiting around her mother but keeping far enough away to preserve the stable, independent world she has built as a writer and editor. Then Elissa is confronted with the unthinkable: Rita, whose days are spent as a fl�neur, traversing Manhattan from the Clinique counters at Bergdorf to Bloomingdale's and back again, suffers an incapacitating fall, leaving her completely dependent upon her daughter. Now Elissa is forced to finally confront their profound differences, Rita's yearning for beauty and glamour, her view of the world through her days in the spotlight, and the money that has mysteriously disappeared in the name of preserving youth. To sustain their fragile mother-daughter bond, Elissa must navigate the turbulent waters of their shared lives, the practical challenges of caregiving for someone who refuses to accept it, the tentacles of narcissism, and the mutual, frenetic obsession that has defined their relationship. Motherland is a story that touches every home and every life, mapping the ferocity of maternal love, moral obligation, the choices women make about motherhood, and the possibility of healing. Filled with tenderness, wry irreverence, and unforgettable characters, it is an exploration of what it means to escape from the shackles of the past only to have to face them all over again. Praise for Motherland "Rarely has a mother-daughter relationship been excavated with such honesty. Elissa Altman is a beautiful, big-hearted writer who mines her most central subject: her gorgeous, tempestuous, difficult mother, and the terrain of their shared life. The result is a testament to the power of love and family."--Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

30 review for Motherland: A Memoir of Love, Loathing, and Longing

  1. 4 out of 5

    Robert Sheard

    On the sentence level, this is fine. But structurally, it's repetitive and doesn't really arrive at the profound revelations all the hype suggests. Altman's mother is a horrible person. She is shallow, vain, narcissistic, childish, and cruel. And while Altman claims she's achieved independence from her mother, literally nothing in the book is evidence of that. She allows her mother to be awful and she caters to her every petty whim. The definition of dysfunctional and co-dependent. As Altman say On the sentence level, this is fine. But structurally, it's repetitive and doesn't really arrive at the profound revelations all the hype suggests. Altman's mother is a horrible person. She is shallow, vain, narcissistic, childish, and cruel. And while Altman claims she's achieved independence from her mother, literally nothing in the book is evidence of that. She allows her mother to be awful and she caters to her every petty whim. The definition of dysfunctional and co-dependent. As Altman says, they're two New York, entitled, white, Jewish women who are more like spouses than like mother/daughter. The only one in this tale with any sense is Altman's wife, Susan, who sends Altman's mother back to New York when she arrives for Thanksgiving dinner and throws a tantrum because she's not the center of attention. Maybe I'm just burned out on memoirs, but the navel-gazing and self-absorption are getting to me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter Zheutlin

    Elissa Altman is the rare writer who seems to produce a gem with every sentence. Her prose is pitch-perfect and her eye for the telling detail is keen. Though her relationship with her narcissistic mother is difficult, and she's often on the receiving end of small, if not always intentional cruelties, her love and devotion to this vain and complex woman are heroic. Through it all Altman's wry humor and wit remain intact. This is a book of enormous heart and humanity. Quite simply, I loved it. Elissa Altman is the rare writer who seems to produce a gem with every sentence. Her prose is pitch-perfect and her eye for the telling detail is keen. Though her relationship with her narcissistic mother is difficult, and she's often on the receiving end of small, if not always intentional cruelties, her love and devotion to this vain and complex woman are heroic. Through it all Altman's wry humor and wit remain intact. This is a book of enormous heart and humanity. Quite simply, I loved it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alissa

    Note: Thank you to NetGalley, from whom I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Elissa Altman is a wonderful writer in the sense that with her words he enables the reader to fully picture the scenes, the people, the places about which she writes. In this case, I do feel like I know Elissa's parents, step-parents, Gaga (grandmother). I feel like I can picture both her mother's NYC apartment and Elissa's Connecticut cottage. There is no doubt, Elissa has a way with wor Note: Thank you to NetGalley, from whom I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Elissa Altman is a wonderful writer in the sense that with her words he enables the reader to fully picture the scenes, the people, the places about which she writes. In this case, I do feel like I know Elissa's parents, step-parents, Gaga (grandmother). I feel like I can picture both her mother's NYC apartment and Elissa's Connecticut cottage. There is no doubt, Elissa has a way with words. However... this is the second book I have read by this author and just as with the first one, I am not sure I get the point of this book. I kept waiting for the "so what?" We all have crazy mothers. I am sure I am turning into a crazy mother. But with a memoir such as this, I would expect some type of redemption or resolution or meaning drawn from the stories but to me it felt more like a few hundred pages of complaining about a narcissistic mother, and then it ends, seemingly because the writer has gotten to present day so she stops. It feels a bit self-indulgent and since she doesn't share any good, redeeming, loving memory of her mother instead of eliciting my sympathy that she might be asking for through this book, she instead brings out feelings of frustration and annoyance. Elissa Altman is a talented writer and has a way with words - I just wish she used that talent and ability to produce books that are less for her own therapy and more for the entertainment of her readers.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Motherland is a memoir by Elissa Altman about her relationship with her mother Rita, a former television singer. She talks about her time growing up with her and the relationship she has with her now. I have a tense relationship with my own mother and I related to a lot of what Elissa Altman wrote about in her book. There were parts that angered me, made me laugh and several that made me sad. This is a story about how life comes full circle and how it’s not always easy to coexist with someone yo Motherland is a memoir by Elissa Altman about her relationship with her mother Rita, a former television singer. She talks about her time growing up with her and the relationship she has with her now. I have a tense relationship with my own mother and I related to a lot of what Elissa Altman wrote about in her book. There were parts that angered me, made me laugh and several that made me sad. This is a story about how life comes full circle and how it’s not always easy to coexist with someone you may love but not always like. I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and am grateful to Ballantine Books for sending it to me for an honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I was interested to read this book after hearing Altman speak about it on a podcast. What really piqued my curiosity was her description of her mother as a narcissist, but one who loved her. Having a mother with similar issues, my experience has been that you can never make them happy, nothing is ever enough, and they aren't really capable of genuine love or care, so I wondered what made Altman think this. She's certainly a good writer, but I found much of the narrative repetitive, a little rambli I was interested to read this book after hearing Altman speak about it on a podcast. What really piqued my curiosity was her description of her mother as a narcissist, but one who loved her. Having a mother with similar issues, my experience has been that you can never make them happy, nothing is ever enough, and they aren't really capable of genuine love or care, so I wondered what made Altman think this. She's certainly a good writer, but I found much of the narrative repetitive, a little rambling and quite melodramatic in parts - especially with her repeated claims that continuing to live with her mother, when she was a younger woman, would kill her. If she could tell that the relationship was harmful to that extent why continue the closeness and why is she still letting her mother press all her buttons. It was a little tiresome watching Altman obsessively allow herself to be repeatedly reeled in on her mother's line, and there was more than a hint of self-pity. Which I get - god knows, I really do - but at some point you have to step up and save yourself. Altman is a grown-up and strikes me as an intelligent woman, yet she seemed (and still seems) totally unable to extract herself from this co-dependent relationship and put a little emotional distance between herself and her mother, despite what must be years of therapy. She still seems to be seeking something that she will never get from the relationship - and surely her therapist has told her this. Her wife must be a saint. And three memoirs is probably too many - far too much navel gazing.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sara D

    This memoir lays bare Elissa Altman's troubled relationship with her mother. I am from the upbringing that dictates "no one bad-mouths my mother but me", So you can listen to me complain about my mother as long as I want to rant, but you had better not chip in, because that's my mother! So, I find it difficult here to say anything about Altman's mother, but I don't have to, because I am the gentle listener to her incredibly well-written, well-articulated "rant" about her mother. But it is not a This memoir lays bare Elissa Altman's troubled relationship with her mother. I am from the upbringing that dictates "no one bad-mouths my mother but me", So you can listen to me complain about my mother as long as I want to rant, but you had better not chip in, because that's my mother! So, I find it difficult here to say anything about Altman's mother, but I don't have to, because I am the gentle listener to her incredibly well-written, well-articulated "rant" about her mother. But it is not a rant. It is a carefully documented and deeply analyzed, lovingly so, account of her life as her mother's daughter. I wholeheartedly recommend this memoir to readers of memoirs, to readers of exquisite prose, to readers seeking finely sculpted literary works. Thanks to Random House and netgalley for the arc of this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Zoom

    A memoir by a daughter about her relationship with her mother. The mother would probably be an okay person to have as a neighbour, an arm's-length friend or a distant relative, but you wouldn't want to be her only child. She's superficial, self-involved, needy, demanding and has little respect for boundaries. She's also obsessed with her appearance and makeup, she simpers around men, and she is determined to remain sexy and thin and stylish forever. Those are her core values. But the book is fru A memoir by a daughter about her relationship with her mother. The mother would probably be an okay person to have as a neighbour, an arm's-length friend or a distant relative, but you wouldn't want to be her only child. She's superficial, self-involved, needy, demanding and has little respect for boundaries. She's also obsessed with her appearance and makeup, she simpers around men, and she is determined to remain sexy and thin and stylish forever. Those are her core values. But the book is frustrating to read - not because of the ridiculous mother, but because of the daughter, who is telling the story. Why doesn't SHE have boundaries? Why does she let her mother yank her around like a puppet on a chain? Why can't she honour her own values? When I read a memoir, I want to find a journey, progress, movement. I don't want to find someone who spent her entire life in a rut of her mother's making. She knows the relationship is unhealthy. She analyzes it constantly. But she does nothing about it. She does not make any progress. In the Notes we learn that not only is the mother still living, but now she's living with the daughter and her wife, because of COVID. The mother is 84, the daughter is 56, her wife is 66. The mother wants to live to 103. I'd love to know if the mother has read the book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Stacie Saurer

    **I received a Kindle version of this book as a Goodreads giveaway.** As someone with her own complicated mother-daughter relationship, this book hit home. I look at others with these magical, my-mom-is-my-best-friend experiences and can't help but feel like something is missing in my own life. Like Altman, I could never completely cut the cord and will always find my mother's life intertwined with my own. Altman's descriptions of her mom sometimes made me laugh out loud while other times cringe **I received a Kindle version of this book as a Goodreads giveaway.** As someone with her own complicated mother-daughter relationship, this book hit home. I look at others with these magical, my-mom-is-my-best-friend experiences and can't help but feel like something is missing in my own life. Like Altman, I could never completely cut the cord and will always find my mother's life intertwined with my own. Altman's descriptions of her mom sometimes made me laugh out loud while other times cringe with empathy. I loved that her story wasn't told in a linear fashion, but instead jumped from adult to childhood to college and back, as if the book was a collection of her own therapy sessions. It's been a long time since I've read something that felt so honest and unembellished. Altman held nothing back in this memoir and the result is an absolutely wonderful read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    Motherland is far more than just the memoir of a mother-daughter relationship. Elissa Altman’s complex story and oft-times obsessive connection to a sometimes-demonic narcissist of a mother is both an addiction in its own right; and a compulsively seductive story of passionate love, concealed rage, disappointment and a yearning for redemption. This spectacularly well written tale of profound connection is clearly a relationship that needed to be told and must be read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Di Richardson

    Not sure what I was expecting when I picked this one up. I think I was expecting lots of laughs, and there certainly were those, but it was also very poignant. This book is a memoir written by Elissa Altman who had a very difficult relationship with her mother all of her life. her mother, Rita, was a former model and singer, with an apparent addiction to Clinique make up, who seemed to be constantly disappointed that her daughter was not a little clone of herself. This lead to a relationship whe Not sure what I was expecting when I picked this one up. I think I was expecting lots of laughs, and there certainly were those, but it was also very poignant. This book is a memoir written by Elissa Altman who had a very difficult relationship with her mother all of her life. her mother, Rita, was a former model and singer, with an apparent addiction to Clinique make up, who seemed to be constantly disappointed that her daughter was not a little clone of herself. This lead to a relationship where Rita was constantly criticizing and trying to change Elissa to be more like her, which as you can imagine lead to a lifetime of hurt and resentments. When an older widowed Rita has a fall that requires Elissa to become her primary care giver, Elissa starts questioning why her mother is the way she is...there something she (Elissa) could have done differently? Elissa decides that she needs to “understand her better, so I can love her better while there is still time...”. She wants to change their story. It is a good reminder in the power of understanding someone else’s perspective.

  11. 4 out of 5

    KMcd

    I won this as a free giveaway in exchange for an honest review through good reads, compliments of the publisher. This was my first read from Elissa Altman and it surely will not be my last. The quality of her writing is astounding. I was initially outraged and furious while reading, but quickly realized that in actuality, this books is heartbreaking. I feel many reviews may reflect the subject matter and the readers’ personal feelings of Altman’s mother, which would be unfair. My star rating is I won this as a free giveaway in exchange for an honest review through good reads, compliments of the publisher. This was my first read from Elissa Altman and it surely will not be my last. The quality of her writing is astounding. I was initially outraged and furious while reading, but quickly realized that in actuality, this books is heartbreaking. I feel many reviews may reflect the subject matter and the readers’ personal feelings of Altman’s mother, which would be unfair. My star rating is a representation of her work as a storyteller and not my personal gain from the book; though I do unsterstand how some struggled with what to take away from it. I’m not certain there is anything specifically to take away, as it reads more of a therapeutic but not self pitying work. I found myself constantly mourning for Altman as the child of a narcissist, forever having love that would never be returned, as well as her mother, a woman forever grasping at love that was only vain and never true, completely blind to the unconditional love that was forever in front of her; being given without restraint or barter.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mirna Valerio

    This book makes you look both critically and lovingly into your parent-child relationship. It inspires you to consider why a person behaves/lives/exists in the way that they do, and how that informs their sphere and all those who come into contact. While it is a difficult story to read, the constant yearning for a different kind of daughter or one that lives up to expectations that are from a different time and experience, the prose and pacing is timeless, the language is economical and powerful This book makes you look both critically and lovingly into your parent-child relationship. It inspires you to consider why a person behaves/lives/exists in the way that they do, and how that informs their sphere and all those who come into contact. While it is a difficult story to read, the constant yearning for a different kind of daughter or one that lives up to expectations that are from a different time and experience, the prose and pacing is timeless, the language is economical and powerful, and the story is a necessary one.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Archer

    This quick book is witty and poignant. I enjoyed hearing Elissa’s perspective on the mother daughter relationship. For my full review, please visit my blog at: http://obsessedbookaholic.com/2019/09... Thanks NetGalley and Ballentine Books for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This quick book is witty and poignant. I enjoyed hearing Elissa’s perspective on the mother daughter relationship. For my full review, please visit my blog at: http://obsessedbookaholic.com/2019/09... Thanks NetGalley and Ballentine Books for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    This was like sitting and listening to someone talk to me for hours and hours about how they’re doing in their therapy. Someone I didn’t really care about. Somewhat interesting, a5 times fascinating, but for the most part I just wanted it to be over.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lucy Burdette

    Elissa Altman tells the astonishing and poignant story of her troubled relationship with a narcissistic mother. It's beautifully written--alternately funny and tragic. I loved it. Elissa Altman tells the astonishing and poignant story of her troubled relationship with a narcissistic mother. It's beautifully written--alternately funny and tragic. I loved it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Orlaith

    0.5 stars.

  17. 5 out of 5

    kglibrarian (Karin Greenberg)

    After hearing Elissa Altman being interviewed by Zibby Owens for her podcast Mom's Don't Have Time to Read Books (I highly recommend it if you like books), I was compelled to read Motherland to find out more about this fascinating author. In this honest, poetic memoir, Altman catalogues her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, who was semi-famous earlier in her life. Singing on TV shows and in popular New York City clubs, Rita made it clear to her daughter throughout her life that appearan After hearing Elissa Altman being interviewed by Zibby Owens for her podcast Mom's Don't Have Time to Read Books (I highly recommend it if you like books), I was compelled to read Motherland to find out more about this fascinating author. In this honest, poetic memoir, Altman catalogues her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, who was semi-famous earlier in her life. Singing on TV shows and in popular New York City clubs, Rita made it clear to her daughter throughout her life that appearances mattered more than feelings and personal growth. With a timeline that skips around from her early life in Forest Hills, Queens to her present home in Connecticut, where she lives with her wife of 20 years, Elissa uses personal anecdotes to highlight her mother's narcissistic personality and how it damaged her and all of her relationships. Though Elissa's relationship with her father is a healthier one, she loses him too early and as an only child, is burdened with taking care of her mother as she ages. One of my favorite aspects of this memoir is its setting in New York City and its surrounding areas. She writes with such clarity about all the details that make up a New York scene, and has the ability to paint a vivid picture of each encounter she has with her mother and other family members. Although I enjoyed reading this book, I was also left with a sense of sadness because of how much hurt and abuse Elissa had to endure. I found it extremely frustrating that she did not set more boundaries for her mother, whose behavior induces guilt and shame in Elissa. At the same time I admired how much she sacrificed for her mother; her loyalty and dedication is beyond what her mother deserved at times.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lori Rees

    Well-written and exhausting. Adult daughter cares for elderly mother after a fall and recalls her history. This book has a feeling of malaise and heaviness. The author is depressed over the relationship she had with her mother. The crux of the matter is that the mother didn’t see the daughter as separate and that can be very damaging. They were enmeshed. The mother is needy. Maybe a narcissist even though I am hesitant to use the term. I also dislike the word damaged, although you can see where Well-written and exhausting. Adult daughter cares for elderly mother after a fall and recalls her history. This book has a feeling of malaise and heaviness. The author is depressed over the relationship she had with her mother. The crux of the matter is that the mother didn’t see the daughter as separate and that can be very damaging. They were enmeshed. The mother is needy. Maybe a narcissist even though I am hesitant to use the term. I also dislike the word damaged, although you can see where the mother was affected by her father’s very odd and hurtful behavior when it came to physical beauty. You can understand why the mother is needy or has a desire to be considered beautiful. The mother didn’t like to eat and had major food issues. That can be disturbing. Kids want their parents to be healthy and “normal”. You can also see how the author (as an adult) contributes to the dysfunction. On occasions it appeared that the mother wished to connect without an agenda, still the daughter is wary and defensive. The author is skilled and shows this without telling. The author seems to have some understanding of why the mother behaves as she does but still seems wounded. Still blaming. Yes the mother had boundary issues. She was annoying and relentless at times. However, a few incidents had me wondering why the author was so disturbed when the mother’s actions weren’t that bad or could be ignored. It was never personal. Of course it’s not so easy to be detached. Of course there will be pain and defensiveness. A few things bugged me— the idea of accumulating a lot of beauty products as pathological. The cosmetics industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s not unusual to succumb to marketing and societal expectations of beauty. Also nurses’ aids don’t administer medications in hospitals. There were other times in the book where I thought the author took liberties or exaggerated. I could be wrong of course. Listened on audio. Author narrates. Good narration.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own. This memoir was kind of undersung this year, which is a bit of a shame, because it's a really compelling read. Altman's prose is beautiful, and the subject matter is difficult to write about, but she does it extremely well. This is the story of a codependent mother and daughter, the former of which is narcissistic to an extreme, the latter of which is our narrator. I really felt like I was there with Eliss I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own. This memoir was kind of undersung this year, which is a bit of a shame, because it's a really compelling read. Altman's prose is beautiful, and the subject matter is difficult to write about, but she does it extremely well. This is the story of a codependent mother and daughter, the former of which is narcissistic to an extreme, the latter of which is our narrator. I really felt like I was there with Elissa as she dug deep to care for her mother after an accident that left her bedridden, as she confronted what it means to have such a painful relationship with a parent who she deeply loves and just as deeply resents. It's complicated territory, and Altman conveys that with lots of sensory detail and emotional honesty. Also, she's queer, which comes into play in the story to the extent that it adds an interesting aspect (for me, since I always finds queer characters inherently more interesting, sorry not sorry) but not to the extent that Altman's queer identity becomes a proxy for her fraught relationship with her mother. In other words, it's there but not even close to the biggest reason why there's so much pain in the relationship, which, silver linings? This is also a story about an upper middle class Jewish family in New York from the 50s onward, which itself is interesting. All in all I really liked this book and would definitely recommend it. It's tough to read sometimes but in a good way.

  20. 4 out of 5

    6

    This author’s mother is an insufferable maniac who is only capable of loving herself and asking for attention. There, that’s the whole book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    Elissa Altman writes of her gorgeous, charismatic mother, a former TV personality, “one had to squint to see her clearly, as though her vibrancy made it too dangerous to look directly at her without corneal injury…. [She] was devilishly, fabulously flirty; even young children can detect innuendo in the set of a jaw.” But throughout Altman’s childhood and adult life, her mother was as volatile as she was vivid: “An acquaintance with a new outfit, a new hairstyle, a new boyfriend, a new lipstick c Elissa Altman writes of her gorgeous, charismatic mother, a former TV personality, “one had to squint to see her clearly, as though her vibrancy made it too dangerous to look directly at her without corneal injury…. [She] was devilishly, fabulously flirty; even young children can detect innuendo in the set of a jaw.” But throughout Altman’s childhood and adult life, her mother was as volatile as she was vivid: “An acquaintance with a new outfit, a new hairstyle, a new boyfriend, a new lipstick could send her into a tailspin for days.” “Motherland” chronicles the co-dependent, tumultuous relationship that results when an adult with an undiagnosed psychological condition entangles their child in a grasping, consuming brand of love: “We bob and weave; we love and we loathe; we shout and whisper, and the next morning we do it all over again. Like tying our shoes or brushing our teeth or shaving one leg before the other, this is our ritual, our habit. We know no other way.” Or, as Altman puts it in an equally evocative passage: “It was not the alcohol to which I was addicted; it was she, and together we fed on our affection and rage like buttered popcorn.” Altman crafts her tale expertly, making what is a fairly common form of dysfunction uniquely riveting. Her metaphor-laden prose is a thing of beauty, and at the same time, function, as Altman puts the reader there, in the moment, at the whim of her mother: “The edge in my mother’s voice caught and then stopped, like a serrated knife…. She is no longer smiling. The air around her suddenly crackles like a hot wire; so much joy, and then a plunge. I shiver. If she is not asked to sing with the wedding band, to coil the microphone cord around one hand the way she once did so expertly years earlier when it was her job, the joy of the day will wither like an autumn leaf, and the mood shift from celebration to catastrophe…. To be the child of such splendor and love and rage—to be kin to it, its daughter—is to live in a world of magical thinking, with the belief that one has the power to right the ship and straighten its course. It would take me a lifetime to understand that my mother was at the helm of her own craft, and that she alone could sail it into the wind or run it aground.” That said, Altman can overdo it at times (e.g., “I metabolized the foreign syntax of resentment and unfulfilled appetites that my mother spoke in every sentence; I secretly yearned for the mundane and the serene, the tedious B side to an extraordinary universe whose angry dialect fell from my young lips like a dying native tongue.”). Still missteps are so rare that five stars are easy to give and the word “perfection” is not entirely misplaced. That’s especially true because Altman’s literary toolbox comes equipped with dark humor: “Ben ... slowly drank himself to death in front of ‘The Cosby Show’ every night when they got home from work. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage, which my mother was certain was an allergic reaction to the shrimp and lobster sauce they’d ordered from Empire Szechuan on Seventy-Second Street.” In her retelling, even the darkest of tales can take on a tinge of light: “So can I borrow your shorts?” she says. “I’d ask Ellen, but she’s too fat.” “Ellen’s a six, Mom—” Our next-door neighbor is tiny, an Auschwitz survivor who, tormented with grief and guilt, stopped eating once the war was over. “I want yours. The pleated ones.” “You hate pleats.” “GIVE ME YOUR SHORTS OR I WILL KILL MYSELF!”

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sokka (pronounced with an OCCA)

    * I was provided with an advanced e-book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. "Give me your shorts. The pleated ones." "You hate pleats." "GIVE ME YOUR SHORTS OR I WILL KILL MYSELF." I felt badly about giving MOTHERLAND 2.5 stars. Clearly, Elissa Altman's story was a difficult one to tell, but the way she wrote it undercut her sad and dramatic story. Altman's story is about her mother and her obsession with her own beauty. Beginning at a young age, Elissa was molded into the mirror ima * I was provided with an advanced e-book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. "Give me your shorts. The pleated ones." "You hate pleats." "GIVE ME YOUR SHORTS OR I WILL KILL MYSELF." I felt badly about giving MOTHERLAND 2.5 stars. Clearly, Elissa Altman's story was a difficult one to tell, but the way she wrote it undercut her sad and dramatic story. Altman's story is about her mother and her obsession with her own beauty. Beginning at a young age, Elissa was molded into the mirror image of her mother by her mother. Although she preferred pants and T-shirts, her mother would force her into Red Red Red lipstick and luxury furs. As she grew older, Altman wished to separate herself from her mother, but isn't sure how. Though an established writer, Altman seems to love her metaphors. While reading MOTHERLAND, I noticed how many she used in one sentance. It was like she was trying to draw too many similarites to make people relate to her tale. In some instances, it was effective; in others, it was downright annoying. Two or three metaphors to describe a single moment? It doesn't read well and doesn't keep the reader interested. The author's writing was also very 𝘸𝘳𝘰𝘯𝘨. Some parts were incredibly detailed where it should've been vague; others were too vague where they should've have been intricately written. I didn't feel as though Altman's heart was in the novel, as if it was just a memoir she had been forced to write. Another negative: I didn't feel anything. I kept looking for something that made me feel, but I couldn't find anything. For most of the book, I was bored, as it seemed repetitive and haphazard to a point. But still, I didn't feel anything. That was a big factor in my rating of MOTHERLAND. MOTHERLAND's story, though, was well crafted. The points at which Altman showcases her mother's obsession with her own beauty are well-placed and carefully written. There wasn't anything bad about it: in fact, her mother's story and her own are equally fascinating in their own respects, although they are both sad. A second positive point: I was able to easily invision the people whom Elissa wrote about. I did feel like I knew her parents and Gaga, Susan and others. Her character descriptions were excellent and well-crafted. All in all, I wouldn't have disliked MOTHERLAND if the emotion had been there and the words had flowed better. I couldn't feel Altman - her heart, her soul. I felt like this was forced out of the author, rather than something truly written by herself rather than for herself.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    This memoir-of-sorts was actually quite well-written, but the genre of abused child/parent relationship is just getting a bit tired. There are so many modern variations on this theme--the Glass Castle books, the "Child Called It", etc. that I'm just not sure what can be added that hasn't already been said. One thing that interests me, to a degree, is when the narrator gains insight into how they played into the abuse as a willing part of the cycle. Altman does this to a degree, but at times she This memoir-of-sorts was actually quite well-written, but the genre of abused child/parent relationship is just getting a bit tired. There are so many modern variations on this theme--the Glass Castle books, the "Child Called It", etc. that I'm just not sure what can be added that hasn't already been said. One thing that interests me, to a degree, is when the narrator gains insight into how they played into the abuse as a willing part of the cycle. Altman does this to a degree, but at times she just seems a bit too sorry for herself. Not that she doesn't have a right to be sad, but it's just not that interesting to read about. Also, as some other reviewer noted, there seemed to be a strong undercurrent of anger: was the author blaming her mother for her childlessness? Was there an undercurrent of resentment for the mother's beauty? Why did makeup get mentioned on almost every page---I get it, the mother loved and hoarded make-up!! Bi-polar people are okay characters, but their actions are ultimately predictably chaotic and thus a bit boring. I'm giving this one three stars for some decent writing and a bit of introspective growth on the part of the narrator. I think anyone who attempts this genre needs to find a new angle or reason for writing the memoir other than just throwing out all the dysfunction on the table for all to see.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shane DeMille

    Now, I like these kinds of memoirs, where the complications of family relationships are painted with a fierce, yet tender brush. Of her relationship with her mother, Altman's subtitle says it all: Motherland, A Memoir of Love, Loathing and Longing. Yes, all those emotions congealed as one. Her mother is highly narcissistic, and Altman is her co-dependent; the mother can be mean-spirited, spiteful, dressed as she was in the haughty runway fashions of the 1950s, and yet she can be motherly and sof Now, I like these kinds of memoirs, where the complications of family relationships are painted with a fierce, yet tender brush. Of her relationship with her mother, Altman's subtitle says it all: Motherland, A Memoir of Love, Loathing and Longing. Yes, all those emotions congealed as one. Her mother is highly narcissistic, and Altman is her co-dependent; the mother can be mean-spirited, spiteful, dressed as she was in the haughty runway fashions of the 1950s, and yet she can be motherly and softhearted. Her character is fully drawn: her ups and downs, her regrets, her yearnings. She may seem like a petty, hollow-souled person, but she is more than that. Altman has set out to achieve greater understanding about her mother, about their relationship, and I feel that by the end of the book, this has been accomplished. Some may dislike this book because it is not linear; the narrative jumps all over the place, and yes, in places, it is not immediately clear what year it is, but read on, these things will iron themselves out. Overall, I'm so glad that I have read this book. It has inspired me to also write about my family, and this, in my opinion, is a good barometer of the success of a book--to inspire. Altman is a talented writer and now I want to read her other books.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alison Hammer

    My dad and I read this book together when I was in town visiting him over a long weekend. It inspired a lot of great conversations about our family, because his father, my grandfather, was married to Rita. Ben in the book, Buddy in real life, it was really interesting to read a story that intersected with my own family's story. I was just a child at the time they were married, but their relationship and the fallout with my dad and his sisters is a big part of my family's story. One of my favorit My dad and I read this book together when I was in town visiting him over a long weekend. It inspired a lot of great conversations about our family, because his father, my grandfather, was married to Rita. Ben in the book, Buddy in real life, it was really interesting to read a story that intersected with my own family's story. I was just a child at the time they were married, but their relationship and the fallout with my dad and his sisters is a big part of my family's story. One of my favorite parts was reading about how much Elissa loved my grandfather, who truly was a wonderful man. The book gives an honest and unapologetic look inside what I think the author would admit is an unhealthy mother-daughter relationship, with a woman who craves constant attention. It's also an interesting look at how mother-daughter relationships evolve over time—starting with a daughter being dependent and craving her mother's attention, the grown up years where most children distance themselves to form their own life and family, and when it comes full circle and the parent relies on the daughter. A fascinating read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katie Devine

    Elissa Altman's gorgeous new memoir, Motherland (her third) was the exact blend of poetry and love story I very much needed this week. “My mother is beauty and she is music, and I love her to my bones. If she is broken, we are both broken. If she is whole, we are whole.” This most primal of relationships, the most fierce and complex and formative and damaging and abiding, is mined through Altman's most intimate memories and rendered through a poet’s precise and evocative language. At times I stop Elissa Altman's gorgeous new memoir, Motherland (her third) was the exact blend of poetry and love story I very much needed this week. “My mother is beauty and she is music, and I love her to my bones. If she is broken, we are both broken. If she is whole, we are whole.” This most primal of relationships, the most fierce and complex and formative and damaging and abiding, is mined through Altman's most intimate memories and rendered through a poet’s precise and evocative language. At times I stopped to read the words out loud to hear them echo beyond my head. This love exists alongside the fury and pain—is, in fact, composed of the fury and pain—and alongside Altman's deeply cherished marital love. But love it is, and the reader is thrust into the hot center of it. Brimming with palpable longing (for both the mother and baby she needs and is never able to have), lush, serene moments with Altman's wife and the gorgeously detailed landscapes of Altman's history (Queens, Manhattan, Connecticut, Maine) Motherland is a must-read this summer.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Judy G

    This is her story Elissa altman or Lissie as her mother called her. This is about her the author and her mother whose name I just forget tho I finished the book yesterday. Ok she is Rita. A quintessential narcissist. As I read this book about her life with her mother and with her wife and also with her father when he was married to Rita and then after. How did this woman survive her mother and be able to live her life in her own way? I was fascinated by this memoir until the end and something fo This is her story Elissa altman or Lissie as her mother called her. This is about her the author and her mother whose name I just forget tho I finished the book yesterday. Ok she is Rita. A quintessential narcissist. As I read this book about her life with her mother and with her wife and also with her father when he was married to Rita and then after. How did this woman survive her mother and be able to live her life in her own way? I was fascinated by this memoir until the end and something for me just shifted. It was after her accident where her mother fell did great ankle damage. From there she needed rehab. Her daughter was not living anymore near mother in NYC. She became her caretaker. She began to accept this role and seemed to be ok with her mother whose outrageous acts of conceit and control had not lessened. I dont understand the ending. At the time this book memoir was finished her mother was alive. Elissa was intending to heal the relationship... I guess that would translate into an acceptance of her mother... judy

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lauren DePino

    I just love Elissa Altman's beautiful, unpretending depiction of her complex relationship with her mother in MOTHERLAND. Amid the difficult moments (which if we are honest, all of us experience them with our mothers), love overwhelms. Elissa tells her story with an enormous heart, one I’ve learned from and will continue to learn from when I encounter difficult situations with the people I love. There were many passages I starred. Here is just one: “The act of waiting is not a sentimental one; to s I just love Elissa Altman's beautiful, unpretending depiction of her complex relationship with her mother in MOTHERLAND. Amid the difficult moments (which if we are honest, all of us experience them with our mothers), love overwhelms. Elissa tells her story with an enormous heart, one I’ve learned from and will continue to learn from when I encounter difficult situations with the people I love. There were many passages I starred. Here is just one: “The act of waiting is not a sentimental one; to see people, related by blood or not, sitting quietly in a badly furnished, airless room, its noise level artificially flattened by the din of wall-mounted televisions turned to the banal and the ridiculous, is to come face-to-face with the tribal. We don’t sit with people and wait for the tumor to be excised or the heart to be stitched. We sit and wait as evidence of life and circle, as a way to peer together over the edge of possibility and time. We sit and wait because the human condition is not to be alone; not to be abandoned.”

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    Imagine a life with a narcissistic mother who says she loves you, but at the same time berates you for your choice of clothes, your hairstyle, lack of makeup and continually brings all the attention back to herself. Imagine the push and pull of your own sexuality, a loving relationship with your father, one that your mother is jealous of, and knowing your birth was because of your mothers wedding night wifely duty. And when your mother speaks of you in the third person as “the baby” in conversat Imagine a life with a narcissistic mother who says she loves you, but at the same time berates you for your choice of clothes, your hairstyle, lack of makeup and continually brings all the attention back to herself. Imagine the push and pull of your own sexuality, a loving relationship with your father, one that your mother is jealous of, and knowing your birth was because of your mothers wedding night wifely duty. And when your mother speaks of you in the third person as “the baby” in conversation with you. This is only part of the heart wrenching core that is Motherland. I immediately embraced Elissa’a writing style which held me captive as I read half of this book in the first sitting. Combined with her devotion to her mother, which led to her own physical and mental distress, this book is a heart bearing memoir that I loved.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Katy Adams

    Like many here, I admire the author's writing style and ability to describe events and scenes beautifully. I also sympathize with her situation, as I'm currently living something like it with aged parents needing my care. But I also agree with other reviewers that the author appears not to have fully understood this mother she must deal with; she isn't out "on the other side" that one hopes to reach through therapy, the support of loving partner or friends, or writing to process the behaviors an Like many here, I admire the author's writing style and ability to describe events and scenes beautifully. I also sympathize with her situation, as I'm currently living something like it with aged parents needing my care. But I also agree with other reviewers that the author appears not to have fully understood this mother she must deal with; she isn't out "on the other side" that one hopes to reach through therapy, the support of loving partner or friends, or writing to process the behaviors and events that make up a relationship. One gets the feeling that the author is still very much "in it" and trying to please her difficult mother. I do sympathize, and I enjoyed the book very much and admire the author for her work and the progress/processing she has completed with regard to individuating from her mother.

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