Sons on mothers
By Jo-Ann Greene, Books Editor email@example.com
Is a boy's best friend his mother?
Two recent memoirs centered around moms -- Will Schwalbe's "End of Your Life Book Club" and Richard Russo's "Elsewhere" -- lead the reader to very different conclusions.
Mary Anne Schwalbe was a wealthy New York wife and mother of three with and Ivy League background and a career. In her later years, traveled the world promoting international literacy and refugee aid. By her son's account she was celebrated and adored by legions of friends her whole life long.
Russo's mother, Jean, was a pink-collar, working single mother whose mental health issues had her clinging for dear life to her only son for his entire life. Alienated from other family members, she had trouble making and keeping even one friend.
There is more similarity in the sons, both middle-aged literary types.
Schwalbe worked nearly two decades in publishing in New York City before writing this, his first book, almost at the insistence of his mother. Schwalbe's tone is reverent, adoring, but does hint that his mother still exerted formidable control over her adult children. The reader feels she'd be proud to take a bow at the end of his book that (as she ordered/gently suggested?) emphasizes the power of literature in our lives.
Russo, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "Empire Falls" and many other novels, comes from a rundown little town upstate. His late mother would be horrified to see her weaknesses exposed here. Russo's voice is exasperated, guilt-ridden and -- dare the reader suspect? -- more honest.
The credibility issues may arise because Schwalbe focuses his book on the last two years of his mother's life. He knew she was dying, and they drew closer discussing books as they waited in doctors' offices for her cancer treatments.
Russo gives reader the seemingly complete history of the unequal partnership between Mom and "Ricko-Mio," as she affectionately called her son. Though she was clearly a burden to him, he gives her credit.
"To my mother I owe, well, just about everything," he concludes
And that's just what a mother wants to hear.n