K's Reviews > Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way

Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl
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's review
Jul 30, 2009

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bookshelves: memoirs, situation-not-a-story
Recommended for: Ruth Reichl fans; those interested in a light read about women's issues

Ruth Reichl's memoirs are always pleasant to read, although I do think their quality has steadily declined since Tender at the Bone Growing Up at the Table. This one was quick and easy and gave me a bit to think about, although I didn't entirely agree with Ruth's conclusions.

Basically, in this memoir which centers around Ruth's mother, Ruth describes her mother as part of a transitional generation of women -- women who were born too late to be totally occupied by the chores of running their homes and too early to develop fulfilling careers as an outlet. Ruth's image of her mother, based on reading her mother's letters, is that of a bright woman who was frustrated and unfulfilled as a housewife but saw herself as having no other options. Ruth's mother's unhappiness led her to manifest symptoms which resembled bipolar disorder, although it's unclear whether Mrs. Reichl actually had the disorder or whether her symptoms were simply the product of her unhappiness.

It was interesting to get a sense of Ruth's coming to terms with her mother's difficulties and learning to view her in a three-dimensional way despite the hardship her mother's behavior caused her. I thought it was a bit of a stretch when Ruth reframed her mother's bizarre behavior as a calculated effort to set a "bad example" for Ruth so that Ruth would be inspired to live her life differently. It sounded to me like Ruth's mother, for all her hopes and dreams for her daughter, was a self-involved woman who was not overly concerned about the impact her behavior would have (and if she was, she surely would have realized the negative short-term effects her behavior was having). Having said that, I did give Ruth credit for trying to give her mother the benefit of the doubt, understand her context, forgive her failings, and appreciate and love her despite her flaws.

This book wasn't earthshattering in any way, but it won't require a huge investment of time and effort, is pretty pleasant to read, and does offer some food for thought.

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