Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Review: Shout Her Lovely Name

Summary: Mothers and daughters ride a familial tide of joy, pride, regret, guilt, and love in these acclaimed stories of flawed, resilient women. Wheat bread and plain yogurt become weapons in a battle between a teenage daughter and her mother. An aimless college student, married to her much older professor, sneaks cigarettes while caring for their newborn son. On the eve of her husband’s fiftieth birthday, a pilfered fifth of rum, rogue teenagers, and an unexpected tattoo has a woman questioning her place in her children’s lives. And we follow through two decades the family created when capricious, magnetic Ruby, an ambitious college student, becomes a single mother to cautious daughter Nora in 1970s California. Shout Her Lovely Name is a “funny, bittersweet” (Vanity Fair) book that announces the arrival of a stunning new writer. -- Mariner Books

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.


bermudaonion said...

I've come to appreciate4 short stories more and more and really like that this tackles mother daughter relationships. I don't have a daughter but I am one so I do understand half of the equation.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Short stories aren't for everyone, and not everyone likes stories that have unlikable characters, but they sure do make for a great discussion. I would probably like this one, however, because I can totally relate with that precarious relationship (!) between mother and daughter.

KRS said...

I thoroughly enjoy short stories. And as a daughter and mother, I can only imagine the dynamics of relationships featured. As the proud mommy of a teenager coming into her own, we are in the no longer a tomboy but its all about this new pretty girl syndrome. I look forward to picking up the book to spend quality time together.

Beth F said...

I would have never thought of short stories as a book club choice, but why not?! I like stories/books on the mother-daughter relationship, so I might pick this up.