Tuesday, October 1, 2013
A few months ago, I was lucky enough to win copies of SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME by Natalie Serber for my entire book club. It wasn't really my turn to host, and thereby choose the book for the month; however, we decided to read this collection of short stories for our September meeting. Since the stories focused on mother/daughter relationships, we thought it would be perfect since all but one of us are mothers to girls.
SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME has received fantastic reviews from Booklist, O Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal to name a few, so I had a feeling that I was in for a treat. And there is absolutely no doubt that Ms. Serber is a gifted writer. The first story which is titled "Shout Her Lovely Name" absolutely blew me away. It deals with a mother who is trying to help her daughter overcome an eating disorder. It is told through the eyes of the mother in second person which isn't something you see everyday. I absolutely loved how the story affected me and made me feel so uncomfortable, and I could totally understand the mother's frustration in wanting to help her daughter. This very first story in the collection was, by far, my favorite.
That's not to say that I didn't appreciate the other stories because I did. Most of the other stories were about the mother/daughter pair Ruby and Nora and their lives together in the 1970s. I admit that I had some issues relating to either Ruby or Nora, and while I recognize I don't have to love the characters to like the story, I wish I could have felt more for them. I never really understood them and I found myself angry with them for much of the book. Having said that, I certainly appreciated that I could feel so much for characters that I really didn't like. That's a testament to Ms. Serber's writing, I think.
The last story "Developmental Blah Blah" was another powerful one and probably the one I was most able to relate to. The mother in this story is throwing a party for her husband's 50th birthday. She is middle-aged (like me!) and realizing that her role in life as wife and mother is changing. She's not entirely sure who she is outside of being a mother and she's also not sure how she fits in her children's lives. The ending of this story was quite jarring and, once again, made me think and feel at the same time.
My book club friends didn't enjoy this book as much as I did. We all had similar feelings about Ruby and Nora, and some of our members weren't able to get past not liking these characters. In addition, I think the short story format didn't really work for a few of my friends. They wanted more character development, probably in the hopes of understanding (or liking) the characters more. They also felt as if the stories were too disjointed. Honestly, I didn't have these issues and I liked how the stories were almost snapshots of Ruby and Nora's lives.
Despite having mixed feelings about this book, I think my book club agreed that it made for a good discussion. There is an amazing discussion guide with eighteen questions (but really more like 30+) that will definitely get your group talking. Some of the themes you might want to explore are mother/daughter relationships, mental illness, depression, love, parenting styles, female friendships, self confidence, forgiveness, and acceptance.
I thought SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME was a very smart and very well written collection of short stories about the ups and downs of mother/daughter relationships. Recommended to fans of literary fiction and short stories.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.