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Mother Daughter Widow Wife

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From the author of Girls on Fire comes a psychologically riveting novel centered around a woman with no memory, the scientists invested in studying her, and the daughter who longs to understand.

Who is Wendy Doe? The woman, found on a Peter Pan Bus to Philadelphia, has no money, no ID, and no memory of who she is, where she was going, or what she might have done. She’s assigned a name and diagnosis by the state: Dissociative fugue, a temporary amnesia that could lift at any moment—or never at all. When Dr. Benjamin Strauss invites her to submit herself for experimental observation at his Meadowlark Institute for Memory Research, she feels like she has no other choice.

To Dr. Strauss, Wendy is a female body, subject to his investigation and control. To Strauss’s ambitious student, Lizzie Epstein, she’s an object of fascination, a mirror of Lizzie’s own desires, and an invitation to wonder: once a woman is untethered from all past and present obligations of womanhood, who is she allowed to become?

To Alice, the daughter she left behind, Wendy Doe is an absence so present it threatens to tear Alice’s world apart. Through their attempts to untangle the mystery of Wendy’s identity—as well as Wendy’s own struggle to construct a new self—Wasserman has crafted a jaw-dropping, multi-voiced journey of discovery, reckoning, and reclamation.

Searing, propulsive, and compassionate, Mother Daughter Widow Wife is an ambitious exploration of selfhood from an expert and enthralling storyteller.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published July 7, 2020

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About the author

Robin Wasserman

113 books1,456 followers
Robin Wasserman is the author of the novels MOTHER DAUGHTER WIDOW WIFE (June 2020) and GIRLS ON FIRE. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Tin House, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and several short story anthologies. A recent MacDowell Colony fellow, she is also the New York Times bestselling author of more than ten novels for young adults and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University.

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5 stars
119 (9%)
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341 (26%)
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540 (41%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 263 reviews
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,304 reviews44k followers
September 6, 2020
Is this smoke coming out of my frying brain cells? Sure, it is! I need an urgent transplant because my brain is not functioning properly. It worked too much to understand this book and I hear the alarm bells and whooshing sound in my ears!

Yes, it was too much to handle! This book terribly exhausted me and at some parts I failed to understand what the author meant. Maybe I’m not smart enough or I’m not in the great mood to focus but I’m lost!

There are so many parts are greatly written and I truly enjoyed but at some parts I lost my interest and I wanted to stop and put it on my “dnf” shelf. This is different kind of Switzerland book because normally when I give a book three stars: I don’t enjoy them much but I also don’t hate them. This time: I enjoyed some parts of the book: mother-daughter relationship, mystery about the women suffering from amnesia, moving back and forth to learn Wendy and Alice’s connection but I also hated vague, slow burn, flat pacing and big plot holes ( I didn’t get the answers I needed! I was not intelligent enough to read the secret messages of the lines!)

We’re introduced Lizzie, a scientist, starts to work Neuroscience facility, hired by Dr. Benjamin Strauss. She finds a big opportunity to work on a rare case: Wendy Doe, suffering from amnesia, fugue state, brought out the facility.

And decades later, Lizzie meets with Alice at her doorstep. Alice’s mother is presumed dead but Alice believes that she is alive. When she was younger, her mother disappeared for months in fugue state and then she returned back. So she thinks it could happen again and she needs Lizzie’s help.

This book is about losing yourself and giving up your life, your identity and how to get them back, how to rediscover yourself. As far as I get from the long, windy chapters and the small clues I gathered from going back and forth to the stories of three women, the reason they gave up so much and lost themselves connected to the men.

This is dark, complex, compelling feminism and re-discovery story: like a phoenix’s rising from the ashes. When I read some parts I felt like I found a unique gem but pacing, moving in the dark and plot holes, unanswered questions, bizarre dialogues failed me. At some parts I asked myself: WTH I’m reading? What does it mean?
It’s more than thought provoking and mostly mind-numbing, brain cell eliminating, exhausting train ride for me! I’m giving my 3 stars as I mentioned at the beginning. I still adore author’s talent and motivation. It’s still great reading but I think I need at least 12 hours sleep because this book made me feel like I ran 15K marathon. And I felt like I just rent inside my head to a noisy construction company building a shopping mall complex. My head aches so much!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for sharing this ARC in exchange my honest review.

Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
July 15, 2021
“You know how you change yourself into a different person?”
“This is gonna sound cheesy, but.” He blushed. “What they say in there, it’s true. You change by making one decision you wouldn’t have made before. You walk into the meeting. Even going to the meeting and leaving before it starts. It’s something. One decision at a time. You are what you choose, right? All you have to do is choose different.”


How much can something change before it becomes something else?
Have you ever done something out of character? Something that is really just not you? I have had the pleasure only very few times. Cowardice is soooo much easier. Life takes a lot less energy if you do not place yourself in risky situations. It had been a really tough year, in a variety of ways that I will not bore you with. I needed to do something to break out of my suffocating shell, so decided the time was right for a cross country adventure. And managed it, sort of. Bought an old twenty-foot, three-and-a-half ton stick-shift Post Office truck for three hundred something bucks at an auction somewhere in New Jersey. Recruited some friends to join, then three others when those dropped out, fitted the thing out with a carpet and some tossed furniture, and we set out. The vehicle did not make it all the way to the other coast, but that’s not the point. Who the hell was that 20-year-old guy who managed this enterprise, got it together, made it happen? He was a stranger to me. How many of us have these other people inside us, or that we create on the fly, to meet a need? Are they any less true versions of us than the versions that came before, or that arrive later?

Robin Wasserman - Image from LitHub

Rev up your gray cells. We’re going for a ride. In Mother Daughter Widow Wife, Robin Wasserman explores the notion of women defining themselves. Wendy Doe was found on a Peter Pan bus bound for Philadelphia, (maybe missed the Neverland stop?) no ID, no name, no idea where she’d been heading, or where she had come from, no memory of who she was, or had ever been. Must have left her baggage on the bus, if she had even brought any with her.
I wanted to write a book about amnesia that was a story not about finding out about the past but about building a new life from scratch, and trying to figure out who you would be if you had no memories, and no baggage, and no obligations. For me it was a chance to explore the science of memory, the history of psychology… - from Bookreporter
Wendy is not the only character in this novel contending with such issues. Having been one sort of a person for so long, there are others who cross a line and become, for a time at least, some other person. Wendy’s is the most dramatic shift, as her prior self no longer resides in her memory at all. The book was clearly also an exploration for Wasserman for personal reasons.
…can you discuss the various influences on your book?
Bach fugues. General Hospital. Abandoned mental asylums. The hysterics of the Salpêtrière. Dropping out of grad school. Growing up in the Philly suburbs…Loneliness. Rage. Paris. Ongoing existential confusion about what it means to be an adult woman without any of the supposed trappings (partner, kid, house, etc.) of adulthood.
- Q/A from Lit Hub interview
There is Lizzie Epstein, a research fellow, who just landed one of the plum jobs in her field. She is assigned Wendy as her project by the head of the Meadowlark Institute, psych research superstar, Dr. Benjamin Strauss. Lizzie is almost as subject to Strauss’s charisma as Wendy is to his control. She is re-booting her career after a bit of a mis-step on the other coast. Lizzie’s interaction with Wendy helps fuel her own questions about what she wants, what she can be.

The Widow, Elizabeth, is Lizzie at age forty-eight, having married, and now survived Dr. Stuart. Elizabeth had already gone through a change in self-identification when she married Benjamin. Her story is about how she struggled with wanting a career, while smitten with Stuart. We see her now, at forty-eight, then, as a star-struck student, and also get looks at her efforts to find, or define her true self, as she carves an intellectual room of her own, away from him and his work, in the years between.

Wendy sees herself as a body into which her consciousness has been dropped. She could as easily have been named Wendy DeNovo. She has zero recollection of her prior life, but has retained cognitive capacity and internalized learning. She can express herself perfectly fine. But it takes constant exposure to find out what she likes and dislikes. What’s your favorite color, Wendy? Let me think about that for a second. There is an interesting dynamic at play during Wendy’s time with Elizabeth at the institute. She may not recognize her own face, but she is putting together a personality. Was it the one she had mislaid? Maybe, maybe not. But, we are assured that once Wendy recovers her memory, her current personality will vanish, a nice word for die. So Wendy has an incentive to not get well.
What kind of symptom wants to find its own cure?
The Daughter is Alice, Wendy’s college-age daughter. She comes to the Institute looking for clues to who the Wendy side of her mother was, maybe to help her figure out who it is she wants to be. And in going through this process finds a way to express unsuspected aspects of herself.

Alice is primarily a daughter in terms of her role, as it relates to the title of the book. Lizzie is a daughter, wife, and widow, and Wendy may be a wife and mother, but only in her prior existence. The Wendy we know is single and childless. But slotting characters into roles is certainly not the way to go about this. The book is about what women might do if freed of the roles of mother, daughter, widow, and wife.

Can Alice be her fullest self without seeing herself through the eyes of her parents? Wendy is literally a whole new person, once removed from the roles of mother and wife. Lizzie was all about work, until encountering Stuart. Elizabeth/Lizzie’s role as a daughter is explored as is her role as a wife, a step-mother and widow. Stepping away from the roles she was given, and has taken on, is her challenge. What do I do now?

There is a lot going on here that gives the challenges the characters take on added oomph.
noun: fugue; plural noun: fugues
Music - a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase (the subject) is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts
Psychiatry - a state or period of loss of awareness of one's identity, often coupled with flight from one's usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy
This is what Wendy is experiencing. The music element is explored as well, and best of all, the combination of the two. There is a patient at the institute who cannot form new memories, but he manages to play Bach’s Unfinished Fugue over and over. Benjamin is also particularly fond of the form.
Benjamin said the fugue was like the self: frugal subjects inverting, subverting, transforming over time, but always, somehow, ineffably and fundamentally the same. He said the fugue was like the mind, rigid rules imposed on finite elements spawning an infinity of combinatorial possibility, a generative complexity from which arose thought, beauty, human consciousness. He said fugue was a junction of reason and unreason, enlightenment rationalism fused with renaissance mysticism, a limited space where finite met infinite. He said Bach used music to encode the divine—like our neurons, Benjamin said, our axons and dendrites, our neurotransmitters, every mind its own creator.
which tells us a lot about Benjamin.

Another motif that permeates is Augustine. Liz takes on a project, looking into the history of a French woman named Augustine, who had become the poster child for the hysteria diagnosis so popularly stamped on uncooperative women in the late 19th century, and sadly, well beyond, a “lost girl held hostage in a house of science,” the genius men reducing her to a pathology. Did she have the maladies they saw, or did they create them, and did she create her own malady? Saint Augustine is brought into the mix as well.
Lizzie had puzzled over this line from the Confessions more than any other. Any duration is divisible into past and future: the present occupies no space. And yet Augustine also said the past and future were only figments. Consequence: there is no now, there are no thens. There is only memory and imagination, no differential of reality wedged between.
But what about those memories? Do they fully define who we are?
That is certainly a popular view.
Memories make us who we are. They create our worldview in ways we hardly realize. Like a character made of Legos, we're built of blocks of memory that all fit together to form our consciousness. How can it be otherwise? - Aug 8, 2017 – Psychology Today
Surely we are not purely memory. Perhaps we are, at least in equal measure, our decisions. And where is the line between growth and change? When does identity, the accumulation of memories we have and decisions we have made allow us to cast off a crusty husk and take on new wings?

The men in this book are all absent in ways large and small, Alice’s father never asks her about herself. Strauss, what we see of him, maintains a dual life, of which Lizzie only gets to see a part. She sees her father as a lesser being for the fact that her mother left him. One character gets into a relationship with a guy precisely because she wants to remain unseen, and he fits the bill. Yet another guy is polite and considerate to the point of the total absence of passion. So not a lot to hang onto if you need a relatable male figure here. But then this is really about the women and their self-definitions, so it is what it is.

Mother Daughter Widow Wife is a remarkable novel, engaging enough for the struggles its characters take on, and incredibly stimulating for the notions considered. What makes us who we are is always an interesting concept. What pathways might appear for women freed of (or having wrested themselves away from) society’s expectations is likewise a fascinating, eternal subject about humanity. How much of us is nature, and how much nurture? The Augustinian and musical deep dives were both fun and stimulating. I did not feel a deep empathy for the characters, well, maybe except for Wendy. But the bravura look at the making and remaking of selves made it all worth the trip.

Review posted – July 3, 2020

Publication dates
----------June 23, 2020 - hardcovr
----------July 13, 2021 - trade paperback

I received an ARE of this book from Scribner in return for a fugue-free review.
Thanks, too, to MC. You know who you are.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

Wasserman, a former children’s book editor, has written more than ten YA novels, including a series that was developed for the Lifetime Channel. Her essays have appeared in the NY Times, The LA Review of Books, and Tin House, and her stories have appeared in several anthologies. This is her first novel for adults.

-----Lithub – May 19, 2016 - Robin Wasserman: Respect the Power of the Teenage Girl - for Girls on Fire
-----The Atlantic – October 23, 2013 - 'Stephen King Saved My Life'

Items of Interest
-----NamUS - a missing persons clearinghouse
-----Wikipedia - Louise Augustine Gleizes
-----Bookreporter.com - Wasserman’s elevator pitch for the book - at 7:26 of the video

-----Bach’s Unfinished Fugue
-----Pat Benetar - Love is a Battlefield
-----Jessye Norman - Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews599 followers
February 15, 2020
Review to follow......
For starters .... I felt the title was more powerful than the book.
I was bored often.
Then.... I’d get more interested - invested ....
Then bored again .....
Had positives and negatives for me.
More later ...

I’m back:

I don’t think I fully understand this book...
I knew that a woman had disappeared....’presumably’ committed suicide...
I understood that Lizzie - a scientist- was hired by the Senior scientist, Dr. Benjamin Strauss - to to examine, scrutinize, and analyze a woman who was found on a bus with amnesia, in a fugue state. They named the woman ‘Wendy Doe’.

Alice was Wendy’s daughter. ( but we learn this about twenty years later).. Alice wants to learn as much as she can about her mother and needed Lizzie/ Elizabeth’s help.

Between past and present storytelling .....Wendy, Lizzie/Elizabeth,
Alice - each narrating, divided into XIV sections....I felt a combination of confusion, boredom, with occasional real interest.
I felt held hostage to keep reading.....[ note, clearly I’m responsible and could have stopped reading - instead I took twice as many notes - thinking I’d find answers if I kept at it].

I wasn’t able to fully comprehend the depths of inquiry this book was asking of us about memory and identity - women’s bodies and who they belong to. I felt like a flunkee. .....which made me feel kinda crappy about myself.

I thought if I read more - I’d feel better.....by understanding more.
Unfortunately- I didn’t feel tons better.
I felt most connected to Lizzie Epstein - the scientist...
But mostly I felt trapped in the same way Wendy Doe did when she had no memory.....or didn’t understood what was happening to her.

I know that mothers and daughters together are a powerful force to reckon with.... but I struggled with the most basic themes of the complexities of their separation..

Reading this book was a little maddening — not sure what went wrong. I’m struggling now trying to explain it.
My own husband ‘liked’ watching me squirm! WHAT? I honestly needed help......
Paul laughed at me - He said “struggling is good for you”. I hated him! Lol.

A simple sentence could knock me off my comfort mountain:
“Her mother’s life was not defined by its end, anymore than Alice’s life is defined by its beginning”.
WHAT DOES THAT ‘REALLY’ mean? I danced that sentence around in my head a half dozen times - trying to imagine - the mother - and Alice - at different stages of their lives. Yep....felt lost!
My brain hurt! Still hurts!

DO NOT PASS GO....GO DIRECTLY TO OTHER REVIEWS!!! They’re more enthralling!
Please don’t let my limitations - lack of understanding the contextual purpose - influence others from reading this book.
Other readers loved it!!!

I Sincerely want to thank Scriber Publishing, Netgalley, and Robin Wasserman.

A low 3 star rating.

March 12, 2020

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MOTHER DAUGHTER WIDOW WIFE is an interesting book that gets more interesting as you read because it goes in several directions that you (probably) won't expect. The format is a bit tricky, because it's told in multiple timelines with multiple POVs. It took me a shamefully long time to figure that out going in so I'll detail a little about what's going on to make it easier for others.

Lizzie is an ambitious student working at a research institution. Her professor gives her a golden opportunity to study a woman who has been checked in to the institute who has dissociative amnesia. Her POV takes place in the past. Elizabeth is grown-up Lizzie, now widowed and no longer involved in science. Her POV takes place in the present. Wendy is the name given to the woman with amnesia (short for "Wendy Doe") who is surprisingly cynical about her situation. Her POV takes place in the past. Alice is Wendy's daughter. She's looking into her mother's checkerboard past now that she's gone missing again. Her POV is in the present.

These three women and the roles they play in the narrative gradually intertwine. Over the course of the novel, you learn more about what drives Lizzie, what happened traumatic incident happened to Wendy, and how Alice lives under the shadow of her own psychological problems that remain largely unchecked. The psychology/neuroscience angle doesn't come into play as centrally as I thought it would, and this book isn't quite the thriller I imagined it would be based on the blurb and the cover. It's almost like a domestic drama, like Lianne Moriarty would write, where it takes these intimate scenes from people's lives and uses them to do an exhaustive character study on some truly flawed and yet completely relatable characters.

The first two thirds of this book read much faster than the last third. I did feel like it slowed down a little, but before I could get bored, Wasserman threw a curveball that completely changed my feelings about one of the other characters in the book and put their relationship with another character in a wholly new light. It made me realize how careful the foreshadowing was, and let me read the story with new eyes. I'm always impressed when an author can do that successfully as it shows such careful planning. MOTHER DAUGHTER WIDOW WIFE is the type of book that will do really well in book clubs and I wouldn't be surprised to see it topping the best-seller charts when it comes out. It made me realize that I have some other Wasserman titles in my TBR pile that I really ought to read, because I'm a sucker for books about morally grey women and she's quite good at writing them.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Natasha Niezgoda.
640 reviews231 followers
December 31, 2022


I mean it. I witnessed boobs being described as crusty, festooning flesh and sexual experiences ending in “he burped into my unwaxed pubes.”


Yeah... ummm. Okay. But why? 🤨 Oh mind you, I clocked upwards of 40 of these bizarre mentionings.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, this book is supposed to be about a patient who has acute amnesia 🧠, she’s then studied by psychologists, she gets better, has a kid, then loses her memory again, and disappears. Now the kid wants to learn about her “amnesia mom” and is chatting with the former psychologist.

Like here’s the deal - there were 324 pages worth of words said but I don’t know if they really meant anything. And that may be because you either need a Ph.D. or the ability to not give a fuck about what’s going on to read this. I’m serious because the AMOUNT OF CLINICAL TERMS used is BEYONDDD. Like I honestly had to google “how do I pronounce floccinaucinihilipilification”?! No joke, that’s a word. And it means worthlessness.


But what I’m getting at is this book was trying wayyyy too hard to be edgy and avant-garde. Like, girl, chill. Have a glass of rosé and talk to me like a millennial.


This isn’t Socrates. Profound things are often very simple things. But when you web them in all this dramatically academic prose the ultimate meaning is lost. Oh so lost.

Thus, I give this book (Mother Daughter Widow Wife) 2.5 stars because maybe I wasn’t smart enough for it. And I also feel bad that Alice had to endure a PowerPoint presentation full of images of STD-stricken skin. Yup. That’s just another odd happenstance you get to encounter. 🤷🏻‍♀️

So with that, have fun if you choose to read this. Okay. Bye!
Profile Image for Kristy.
1,070 reviews150 followers
June 30, 2020
Filled with complex emotions and topics but wordy and long

Wendy Doe is found in Philadelphia without an ID and no memory of who she is. She becomes a patient at Dr. Benjamin Strauss' Meadowlark Institute--basically her only alternative for being cast out on the streets. Dr. Strauss and his young student, Lizzie, study Wendy, fascinated by her fugue diagnosis. Meanwhile, years later, Wendy's daughter Alice is looking for her mother, who has disappeared again. Wondering if her mother's past disappearance--which she never knew about--could be tied to the current one--Alice searches out Benjamin Strauss and Lizzie. She discovers Lizzie is now a young widow and begins a journey into both her mother's past, and Lizzie's.

"Every daughter became a mother, every mistress a wife--every wife a widow."

This is a hard book for me to rate, even several weeks after finishing it. Is it a brilliant work examining womanhood and love or a frustrating tale that leaves you feeling unresolved? This is certainly a complex book that features complex science, emotions, and feelings. Wasserman has done her research, and there are pages and pages devoted to the science of dissociative fugue, amnesia, and more. I won't lie: it's a lot. There were times I found myself just skimming those sections, because it was a bit much for me.

I didn't care much for the character of Alice, and I'm not entirely sure why, because her mother is missing (presumed dead by suicide by everyone except Alice), and she's worried. But there's something about Alice that just didn't make her particularly sympathetic to me. As for Lizzie, even though she didn't make the best of choices, I liked her more. Maybe I identified better with her. We get to see Lizzie in the past and present, and Wasserman does a good job of capturing the yearning of loving someone who doesn't deserve you and the idea of becoming someone else for love. Even Wendy is hard to care about sometimes, because she just doesn't seem to care herself. To her, her memory is a thing she's lost, but because she can't remember, she doesn't seem too concerned.

"'You don't get it: I don't not want it back, and I don't want it back. There is no it. You can't miss what never happened.'"

What was so hard with this book is that there were just so many words. Oh the words. Words about science, words about feelings, words, words, words. It just felt long. I wasn't entirely invested in the story, but I did want to find Alice's mother, but then everything just felt sort of eh and unresolved, and yeah. I don't know. So much thinking, not much happening. I think this novel probably presents some brilliant ideas and representations, but they went over my head. 2.75 stars, rounded to 3 here.

I received a copy of this novel from Scribner and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,639 reviews2,152 followers
February 18, 2020
3.5 stars.
If you were a fan of Wasserman's last book, GIRLS ON FIRE, I want to make sure you know right away that this is a much slower book. I could tell it would wrestle with some tough stuff, but given the juicy hook and her previous book I wasn't expecting the slow pace and I think I would've had a better experience if I'd known that.

The hook of this book is a woman in a fugue state, Wendy Doe, who is at the center of two other women's stories. Wendy has lost all her memories and has ended up as a patient at a Neuroscience facility where Lizzie has just started a fellowship. It is an opportunity to study something very rare, but it's not what in line with Lizzie's previous studies. Wendy is presented to her, almost as a gift, by Dr. Strauss, the renowned scientist who runs the facility. Lizzie is feeling lost after the end of a relationship and the sudden failure of the projects she'd worked on in grad school, and takes what Strauss offers because she doesn't know what else to do.

Alice's mother has just disappeared, and while everyone else insists she's dead, Alice discovers that when she was young her mother was missing for months while in a fugue state and wonders if it could have happened again. She shows up on Lizzie's doorstep decades later sending them both back into the past.

It's a very juicy hook, and it set my expectations as a reader. And there are some mysteries for us to solve. But that isn't Wasserman's main concern. What she really wants to do is consider Alice now and Lizzie at these two different points in time, and the way that these three women lose themselves, give themselves up, or become someone else either through or because of men. When these stories all come together, when we get to see the depth of their confusion, their struggle with their own sense of self, the book really comes together. Unfortunately for me, it took so long to get there and then it couldn't sustain itself. Eventually one man becomes such a villain that it opens up a whole set of new discoveries... which we then basically drop and wrap up instead of diving into. I wanted all of the book to be what it was at its best, the third quarter of it, instead of what most of it was.

Sometimes it's really hard to judge a book when you feel like there's a better book hiding inside it, that if you carved some parts away and expanded other parts it would be what you want it to be. It's an unfair thing to ask of a book, but it's also the real reaction I had.
Profile Image for Jennifer Blankfein.
384 reviews655 followers
July 6, 2020
A woman has lost her memory and agrees to be studied by a doctor and his medical student. Multiple points of view and an unexpected discovery at the end kept the story moving along. Full review to come on Book Nation by Jen https://booknationbyjen.com
Profile Image for Robyn.
1,858 reviews126 followers
November 23, 2020
Think of a deck of cards that is organized by number and suit.... then shuffle this deck several times... and you have the organization of this book! If you expect more than that... you are going to be confused. I have no expectations but was still confused.... in fact a couple of times I had to check to make sure I had not jumped chapters or picked up the wrong book!

A woman's life is told before she forgot everything, and then about her life after she forgot everything. Then her daughter appears and remembers the life in the same way, as does everyone else. There are sections where you are drawn in.... and sections that I wondered if I could skip... they were too detailed or off on a tangent that seemed meaningless to me.

It is a difficult read, for sure...

2.8 rounded up to 3 stars

Yahpp Reading!

(see confused)
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,470 reviews1,007 followers
July 27, 2020
Having been a huge fan of Girls on Fire I was eager to dive into this.

It didn't capture me in quite the same way as Girls did, but the beauty of this author's writing has not diminished and this novel was a delight to read for pure quality.

The story itself is compelling, focused very much on memory as a concept and featuring three very different, engaging women tied together in various ways.

Enjoyed it very much looking forward to more from this author.
Profile Image for Jennifer Blankfein.
384 reviews655 followers
February 15, 2021
Mother Daughter Widow Wife is about women, identity and power. This is the story of Wendy Doe, a woman who is found on a bus in Pennsylvania with no ID or any idea of who she is or where she came from. She is thought to have a temporary amnesia and is sent to a medical research facility to be observed. She is studied by Dr. Benjamin Strauss, and his assistant, Lizzie. Dr. Strauss calls the shots with both his young assistant and his new patient. Lizzie looks up to him and believes investing in their relationship could further her career. Strauss also spends time alone with Wendy, developing a relationship and learning more about her condition. For Lizzie, Wendy feels like a friend and someone she admires who can start her life over, but Wendy has no attachments to either Dr. Strauss or Wendy as she navigates her world with no memory.

Years later, Alice is looking for her mother who has gone missing and she tracks down Elizabeth Strauss (Dr. Benjamin Strauss’s widow and former assistant then known as Lizzie) who reveals her experience with Alice’s mother, previously known as Wendy Doe. Wendy’s history of temporary amnesia and being in a dissociative fugue state gives Alice the hope that this might be the reason for her mom’s disappearance, yet Lizzie is not convinced. Lizzie, now a widow, and Alice, a daughter in search for her mother have many unanswered questions that have great impact on their lives. In Mother Daughter Widow Wife, Author Robin Wasserman examines power and agency in the workplace and in life, and the ways women can lose themselves and their identities. Not a straight forward read but if you have interest in memory and dissociative fugue states, you will enjoy.
Profile Image for Lorilin.
757 reviews238 followers
April 13, 2020
A woman, Wendy Doe, is found on a bus, penniless and disoriented, suffering from amnesia. She's taken to a psychological institute to be examined and studied. The doctor who "treats" her is Benjamin Strauss. His research assistant, Lizzie, also studies Wendy for her research project--we hear from her while she's working with Wendy, and we hear from her 20 years later. We also hear from Alice, Wendy's daughter, again 20 years later. Sounds confusing--and, at first, it is--but you get used to it.

This book may be more for the thriller crowd. It's a slow-moving, almost lyrical, mystery. Parts had me hooked, but I also felt bored. And confused... I think I understand the overall message that women's bodies are often not their own, that their lives are not their own. But yikes, what a downer. If you're in the right mood, the book is okay. Just be prepared for something very dark and depressing.
Profile Image for Jan.
1,113 reviews29 followers
August 14, 2020
Wasserman explores memory and identity through three primary characters: a woman in a fugue state, her daughter, and a research fellow assigned to study her. Some plot threads were cliched, but there was enough going on that they didn’t overwhelm the more interesting and enjoyable parts of the story and analysis.
Profile Image for Mary Lins.
874 reviews125 followers
February 10, 2020
What if a talented literary writer wrote a Soap (aka Soap Opera) with many of the attending tropes and themes? Well, I think that is what Robin Wasserman has done successfully with her new novel, “Mother Daughter Widow Wife”! We have the Soap staples: an amnesiac, adultery, sex, obsession, complicated relationships, mystery, danger, and maybe not an evil twin – but close! Don’t let any of that put you off! This is a well-written psychological mystery well worth your time.

After a laboratory failure that ruins years of her research on memory, Lizzie Epstein relocates from her life and relationship in California to her hometown of Philadelphia, to join a “brilliant” scientist Dr. Benjamin Strauss who asks her to head up an investigation of “Wendy Doe”, a woman who was found on a bus with total amnesia. Alice, is Wendy’s daughter who is looking for answers to her mother’s sudden disappearance. HOWEVER, just when you think this is going to be a fairly straight-forward narrative, Wasserman projects the reader 20 years into the future! I thought: “Ah! This just got interesting!”

We go back and forth through time to learn about the identities of Wendy and Alice and the nature of Dr. Strauss’ research and relationships. I don’t want to spoil anything because dramatic things happen that I did not foresee (like in a good Soap!)

Told through various female points of view (mother, daughter, widow, wife), over past and present time lines, Wasserman deftly weaves in themes of identity and memory that will resonate with many readers. Wasserman clearly did her research into Memory Science, and the history of treatment of female “hysterics”, all of which she presents in a fascinating and thought-provoking way. If we are who our memories make us, would we become fundamentally different people if we could curate our past? If we could pick and choose what we remember? Would we be happier if we could edit out our bad memories? What IS identity? What does it mean when we say things like “that was unlike you!” or “that was uncharacteristic” or “out of the blue”? How well do we really know ourselves, much less know anyone else in our life? Do people change (women in this novel change when they become mothers) or is whatever we present to the world a “performance”? All interesting questions, and perfect for literary book clubs to discuss.

(Hat tip to Wasserman; we don’t learn Dr. Strauss’ wife’s name until 3/4th of the way through the book…and it’s “Madeline”. Good one!)
Profile Image for Richelle Robinson.
1,197 reviews35 followers
July 24, 2020
Some parts of the story I enjoyed. Some parts of the story I had no interest in at all. I found the main character Lizzie to be one dimensional throughout this whole story. The growth she had in this story didn’t feel authentic. I really liked Wendy and Alice character’s the best. The ending wasn’t excepted but that’s how life can be sometimes. This was my first time reading this author and it wasn’t a bad read but it didn’t blow me away either.
Profile Image for Amy.
1,628 reviews169 followers
June 28, 2020
Do you ever read a book that exhausts you to such a degree that you feel like you can't read another one for at least a week? And you're not quite sure whether that's a good thing or not? Such is how Robin Wasserman left me.

For one thing, I spent way too much time trying to figure out who the mother, daughter, widow, and wife were. Not because it isn't apparent, but rather because I kept thinking there had to be more to it than that. In fact, that sentiment perhaps best describes my feelings about this book: there has to be more to it than that.

Wasserman uses a non-linear timeline, taking you from the present to a few decades earlier, as she tells the story of three women: Lizzie, a neuroscientist; Alice, the daughter of a woman who's missing; and Wendy Doe, a former patient of Lizzie's. Each of them is at a different point in their lives, but all risk losing their sense of self, their sense of purpose. Can they be reduced to the labels of mother, daughter, widow, and wife? What about their needs and wants? What rights do they have to demand those needs and wants get met? What are they willing to defy? To sacrifice?

Parts of this book are HEAVY. They disturb you because they force you to think and feel. Wasserman demands that you consider these women and what they were willing (however reluctantly or not) to sublimate for the sake of a man. You will find yourself questioning their decisions and perhaps even sympathizing with them. But you will be exhausted. Some of the chapters take an emotional toll, whereas others feel burdensome. I'll give this much to Wasserman: I kept turning the pages. I needed to know as much as I could about Lizzie, Alice, and Wendy.

I liked this book. I know I keep saying how tiring it was, but that isn't because it isn't well written or had undeveloped characters. Yes, I still have some questions. Yes, some plot points may have been resolved in ways that didn't quite work. But Robin Wasserman made me think, and that isn't a bad thing. I had to work for this book, both to understand its messages and to figure out how I might relate to them.

If you read this one, please let me know what you think.

Profile Image for Sharon M.
1,886 reviews30 followers
July 4, 2020
Many thanks to NetGalley, Scribner, and Robin Wasserman for the opportunity to read and review this book. 4 stars for an intriguing book that will certainly activate all that gray matter in your brain! This is a somewhat complicated read, both with the massive amount of information given on memory as well as the way it is written. But stick with it - it's definitely worth it!

Mother, daughter, widow, wife - all various roles women play in our lives. But are those how we define ourselves or how others define us? And what does it cost us to put ourselves in those different roles? We are presented with 3 female characters in this book: Wendy Doe - a woman who took a bus to Philadelphia and is in a state of fugue amnesia - she has no recollection of her past and no memories whatsoever. Wendy's chapters are told in the past timeframe. Lizzie is the graduate student working for the esteemed Benjamin Strauss at his memory clinic. Wendy Doe is her research subject. We hear Lizzie's voice in the past as she's working with Wendy and in the present as Elizabeth, the widow. Alice is Wendy's daughter - we hear from her in the present time.

With me so far? This is a wonderful character study of women and their roles, their self-esteem, and how they change to fit men's ideals of them. It's definitely one of those books that makes you think - it's not an easy, breezy read. But it would be a wonderful bookclub selection.
Profile Image for Roxanne.
1,052 reviews54 followers
July 20, 2020
I am in the fence either a 3.5 or a 4. It lost me in some places, it took me longer then I care to admit to sort of figure who and what was going on. Great in some places, boring and confusing in others.
Profile Image for Janet Skeslien Charles.
20 reviews45 followers
May 8, 2020
From page one, this book grabbed me by the lapels and made me sit up straight. The novel is an exploration of memory. As I get older, I see how differently people remember things, and found the perfect explanation in this book: "We all forget things that happened and remembered things that did not." I read with a pen and underlined many gorgeous passages. I especially loved how two friends have such a different take on their relationship. A thought-provoking read.
Profile Image for Marsha.
Author 29 books713 followers
July 5, 2020
The premise for this novel is stronger than the story, about a woman who loses her memory and becomes the object of study at a famed memory institute. There are many intertwining narratives: that of the woman who has lost her memory, both during her fugue state and after, the daughter who wants to learn more, and the lead researcher who falls in love with her married professor. The intertwining tales get a bit confusing at times and I found myself wanting to shake Lizzie, the lead researcher and primary narrator.

This book felt much longer than it was and around the 2/3 mark, I nearly gave up. That said, I'm glad I read it to the end.
Profile Image for Hillary.
53 reviews
February 11, 2020
There's so much I could say about this book. Wasserman's Mother Daughter Widow Wife is a masterful, lyrical meditation on memory, bodies, identity -- of the ways we interact with our past and future selves, how we spend a lifetime in a body that is only brought truly alive by memory.

Elizabeth, a bright graduate student, accepts an exceptional opportunity to study alongside a famous scientist whose life quickly consumes hers. Together, they study Wendy Doe, a woman who is trapped in a fugue state, remembering nothing of her former life. 

Years later, Alice has just graduated high school when she discovers her mother is missing and presumed dead. Except, Alice's dad shares, this has happened before -- when Alice's mother went by Wendy Doe until her memory returned to her. Alice seeks out Elizabeth to learn more about the time in her mother's life when she ceased being the woman who was her mother.

I loved this book. It was one of those books I kept underlining passages of, over and over, wanting to revisit. As I look back on each passage I wanted to keep close to my heart, they are all about ways of forgetting and remembering the story of what has happened to you -- how your memory shapes who you are, and how who you are is a dynamic creature that won't--can't--stop moving.

Fans of Nicole Krauss and Janet Finch will find a lot to love here. And after finishing this novel, I immediately borrowed Wasserman's previous book, "Girls On Fire" from the library -- can't want to see what else she releases!

Thanks to NetGalley for a digital advanced copy in exchange for a thoughtful review.
Profile Image for Elly.
472 reviews3 followers
February 28, 2022
A powerful story that is told by 3 different people.
The Mother / Wife who suffer from fugues state, which was greatly explained in the book.
The Daughter who is looking for her disappeared mother.
The Widow / Wife is the research scientist who married her boss then became a widow.
The story switches scenarios from past to present and back, depending on whose story we are reading. Some of the parts got quite technical, and I found my mind drifting and had to take a break from reading to absorb what I read, which at times became tedious and boring.
The helplessness of the women in the story made me angry, although I understood their struggle, however I felt that their character needed more growth.
The book gives us a great psychological study thru these women, about sexuality, identity and connection, struggles and the ability to change.

Profile Image for Lolly K Dandeneau.
1,866 reviews238 followers
April 30, 2020
via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/
"This body is not a temple, but it has been loved. You’d think someone would be looking for it."

In Mother Daughter Widow Wife, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Epstein leaves her studies on rats behind after a bit of screw-up and hatches a plan to work beneath “cognitive psychology’s latest golden god” in order to ‘relaunch her research’ under the reputation, resource and genius of Benjamin Strauss of Medowlark Institute. Of the four fellowship winners, only one will win the right to publish with Strauss. Lizzie’s ambitions have found the perfect home in Benjamin, the sure thing to guide her intellectual life, even if getting there puts an end her current relationship. It isn’t long before she meets the ‘legend’ Strauss and is introduced to the subject that will take her into the labyrinth of the brain. Wendy Doe, by all appearances, is about the same age as Lizzie but unlike her doesn’t have a past to wrestle with.

Wendy Doe, a woman found on a Peter Pan bus with “no means of identification, including her own useless brain” is going to change Lizzie’s life despite having been spat out from her own. Diagnosed with dissociative fugue state, she is no longer just a patient reliant on the state but Lizzie and Benjamin’s subject matter. A woman wiped clean of any evidence of a past, ripe for Benjamin’s study into neurons, memory and brain dysfunction who Lizzie sees as a risk. Unlike rats that can be controlled, at any moment her family could find her or her memory could replace the ��newborn woman’ who has taken over the body and ruin their research. This subject has the ability to ask questions of the researchers and worse, it could be a superb act, a lie. This study could end up being a waste of precious time and yet, Wendy could be key in launching Lizzie’s career, especially with Dr. Strauss’s name attached. Wendy doesn’t seem to want to remember if it means total annihilation of her current self. How could Lizzie possibly understand what it means to forget, to be without a well of memories to draw upon in order to define yourself? For Lizzie, whose self is ever present, her memories are perfectly waiting in her brain, even within her body and always waiting to be entertained. Wendy is akin to a living ghost and in some ways maybe all women are, dependent on the choices they make in life. Lizzie herself will wear different forms of being by the novel’s end, her life taking strange diversions, striving towards more than her career pursuits (for better or worse). The death of other selves could well be the theme. Embracing her ambition and casting it off, desire, love and passion for more than science.

Memories are imprints that sear the brain, creating a map of who we were so we can understand who we are as well as the person we are becoming. Our likes, dislikes, passions, friendships, loves, victories, failures, traumas and recoveries- all of these are building blocks. It’s terrifying to question what a core of a person is made of, how flimsy it truly is. How reliable, fruitful is this garden in the brain that we tend to when so much of what we encounter is forgotten or falsely remembered? How much meaning can we place upon our shared moments in time? This question is a torment for Wendy’s daughter, Alice. Her mother disappeared and in order to solve the mystery of her mother’s vanishing, she has to go backwards into Wendy’s murky past. Who was the mother she thought she knew?

Wendy resents being a test subject, but it’s her last resort. She is not just a body, though she is treated like one confronted with a stream of endless tests and questions. She is research and a conundrum Dr. Benjamin Strauss is desperate to solve but he was the first to make her feel like a human being. Do we need other people to see us in order to become real? She trusts him to explore the mysteries of her mind, but should she? Why would she want to let the woman who slipped out of her mind to come back? Where is the reason in thinking about that unwanted landlord who left a wobbly stranger in her place, who handed her this body with no crumbs to follow?

Unlike her rats, Wendy’s existence brings to the surface more questions than answers for Lizzie. The more she gets to know Wendy, who is slowly becoming a fresh person solely of the present, the more she questions inconsistencies of the self. In observing Wendy she is poking and prodding her own psyche. There is a certain freedom she witnesses, to be a woman who doesn’t need permission to think, to love, nor how to live. Does such freedom require being erased, free of the expectations of others? There too is Strauss, with his own plot of memories, a full life that she gets to excavate.How much meat is in concrete facts, more or less than resides in a ravaged mind? Everyone is elusive in their own way, even to themselves. She longs for him to be intrigued by her and through their study of Wendy, this mutual intellectual pursuit, a fever is rising between them. Strauss, through this study, may have just handed her the key into her life’s work. Like a pet, she beams under his praise. How can she possibly resist this remarkable man and not be impressed by his genius? What does such submission to a man’s preeminence cost?

What is forgetting? Why has Wendy’s mind completely erased her, if she is to be believed? Is erasure damnation or salvation? Is it better to cling to this life “without footholds” or to be free of everything that kept you tethered? Alice should be an anchor, she is the face on their other side of the cliff Wendy has plummeted from. Did she know her mother at all, and if the mother she knew, the facts of her were just a wisp of cloud what can she understand about her own memories, facts? Can Alice fill enough gaps to conjure her mother and unravel her many disappearances? Are omissions just another name for lies? Does Wendy have a center at all? Alice will seek answers through Lizzie, but may get lost in a more complex maze.

I know reviews will be mixed, but what drew me in is the stark terror of memory, that greasy, sometimes mean little weasel that more often than not betrays us, leads us astray or abandons us altogether. What do we owe it, more- what does it owe us? Lizzie and Wendy are both Benjamin’s subjects, in a sense, as the lines blur. It could be said Wendy studies them too- that’s the problem with a thinking, feeling subject, not just whether or not they are forthright but that you run the risk of influencing them, or they you. What do we project unto others? There is a lot happening here, and the presence of all the women in Benjamin’s life dominate the story. What about Benjamin and how he files his life experiences? It is most important how the women, dependent on their place in Strauss’s life, identify with each other but it is also about who present ourselves to be and the identity people allow us to embrace.

I really liked this story, even if it frustrates other readers, the novel had my mind going in strange places.

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Profile Image for Tess.
587 reviews
August 15, 2020
I'm so disappointed to report that this book, which I was so excited for because of my love for Robin Wasserman's novel GIRLS ON FIRE, just didn't connect with me. The 3 (sort of 4) main characters were all women who were seemingly too similar for me to keep the thread going, especially when the POVs would change chapter to chapter. The mystery, of a woman who loses her memory and ends up on a bus heading to CA from PA, is a great hook however, the book is much less straightforward than a thriller with a mystery to be solved.

It is seemingly a feminist take on what it means to have a body, memory, and autonomy. The theme of fugue states is a big theme, and I like how Wasserman connects it to the idea of being a woman and doing what is expected of you. It is an interesting jumping off point, but I struggled to finish the book and it left me sort of in my own fugue state unfortunately. This will probably work for others, but just not for me right now despite Wasserman's obviously beautiful writing.
Profile Image for BookChic Club.
470 reviews293 followers
June 27, 2021
This was a really interesting book that was so hard to put down. It goes between past and present as well as three different narrators (including the past and present of one character). It's such an intriguing, intimate look at several different women at different points in their life and facing questions of what life expects of them versus what they want/need from life. It's definitely a slow, introspective book; the summary makes it sound a lot more exciting than it is so you really have to be in a certain kind of mood to read it.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,148 reviews74 followers
June 17, 2020
Oh man. At times this book was fascinating and too many times, just boring or perhaps more detailed and above my brain's abilities to understand. Somehow I thought the novel would be more about the woman herself who had lost her memory...it only indirectly was. Mostly it explored memory and the brain, and women's lives derailed by following their hearts instead of their brains.

Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for the ARC to read and review.
Profile Image for Tara.
Author 2 books76 followers
July 18, 2020
I loved so much of this novel - the exploration of memory and forgetting, of the roles women play as they traverse the path from wife to widow, daughter to mother, of the ways women, especially “broken” women are used by men.
There’s a lot of good stuff here, beautifully evocative writing, interesting characters ...but also about a 100 pages that I would have cut (specifically about the obsession about a man and how it destroys the woman’s career and her “she can’t stop loving him”).
I enjoyed this book in waves but there were whole sections where I nearly quit the book..
70 reviews
March 27, 2021
This book had so much potential! It started as a story about someone who has fugue. I particularly liked when the author described what that would be like. Unfortunately the story went in a different direction. It felt slow and repetitive and boring. The author definitely has talent, but I feel the book needed to be redirected.
Profile Image for Geonn Cannon.
Author 106 books162 followers
July 13, 2020
I liked it! It wasn't bad. Toward the end, I started having problems remembering names, but that might've just been me not paying close enough attention. Yet another books wrapping past and present narratives, god I'm sick of that... But overall, lots of interesting stuff about memories and whether we create them or they make us.
Profile Image for Chris Roberts.
Author 1 book48 followers
December 21, 2021
Goodreads is a repository for awful writing
And asinine, semi-functional storylines
Book reader logically deprived
Disengage, rearrange your time and breathe for sanity.


Chris Roberts, Patron Saint of a Desperately Broken Readership
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