Sunday, June 25, 2006

Lessing's mothers

I didn't mean to read The Grandmothers this week. It's been on my nightstand for ages; other books are queued up to be read first. But in that moment between books I found my hand resting on it, then picking it up and opening it.

I didn't mean to write about it here, either. But.

These aren't nice stories. All 4 stories in this volume by Doris Lessing leave me sad and uncomfortable. Too, the writing isn't... tight. Trails tangential to the main path are followed at whim, then dropped. It sounds at times likes the ramblings and commentary of an old woman. Still interesting and usually relevant, but not always obviously purposeful. Perhaps she's always written this way and I never noticed. Perhaps it's from recently reading her essays with their casual rhythms, and having listened to her that I'm more aware of her pauses and asides, how she strays before coming back.

These stories are about mothers. I didn't figure that out till I was finishing up the third story. You'd think the title of the book would've served me as a clue to the fact that family relationships would figure strongly.

There are fathers too, but they are barely there. They are emotionally then physically absent, absent then intrusive, tyrranical and dead; while the fourth story is told from the father's perspective, he never meets his child.

The mothers. The mothers try so hard to do right by their children, and they fail, often spectacularly. They mean well, they do their best, and sometimes I think I would've done much the same, but they still don't get it exactly right. You can't win; mothers can't win.

The third story, The Reason for It, is my favourite of this lot. It reads like a report from another time and place, though it could be an allegory for some of our current times and places.

And that was the moment I understood. Oh, all kinds of enlightenment came flooding, rather late, but there it was, right in front of me. It was not that he had forgotten. Not that he had deliberately destroyed what was good. He had never known it was good. He had never understood. He had seemed to be part of it all, but he, Destra's son, the graceful and charming and delightgul DeRod, whom we had all admired, had been a blind person among us. From some spirit of emulation he had gone along with it all, as children do, but he had unsderstood nothing at all.

Oh, yes, the scales were indeed falling from my eyes.

I sat there looking back over my long life, and thinking how we, The Twelve, had not seen the first most obvious thing. We had deluded ourselves with all kinds of imaginings and resentments and suspicions: we had seen this man here, DeRod, as a villain, a scheming, ambitious, unscrupulous scoundrel. The truth, had been — he was stupid. That's all. We had never seen it. But clearly, his mother had . . . and that was something I had to think out.


I wonder what kind of mother Doris Lessing was (is). I don't know how much her autobiography will tell me about this; I suspect, not much.

It's Doris Lessing who articulated some of my deepest fears regarding motherhood, years before I even considered entering that state. How much control does a mother have? What if my child is evil? What if my child is stupid? What is my child's nature? How will that nature reveal itself to me, and will it guide me like I need to be guided?

(Doris Lessing is now on MySpace.)
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