more on mothers and daughters

This is related, in a very roundabout way, to yesterday’s post and the thoughtful comments y’all have left regarding parenting sixteen year olds.

I had an interesting email from somebody who just finished Fire Along the Sky and really loved it, but had one major disappointment:

I must say I am disappointed in the direction of Elizabeth’s character. I see so little of the fire in her that we had in Into the Wilderness. I felt as smothered as her children. She is controlled so much by her fears, and I believe it to be a very poor reflection of her character. I think that’s why I cling to Hannah’s character so much. She has experienced great loss, has witnessed horrific tragedies – but she’s not so incapacitated by them. — M.B.

My first reaction to this is bafflement. I did expect to get reactions like to this to Lake in the Clouds, where Elizabeth does come very close to falling over the edge when she’s confronted with another epidemic and threat to her children. But in Fire Along the Sky?

My second reaction was to wonder if this has to do with age. At twenty-five I might have had the same thoughts. I would guess that women my age might be more understanding toward Elizabeth, who has lost a number of children in difficult circumstances. It would seem odd to me if a woman experienced all that and had no vulnerabilities as a result. But of course, I understand her because she’s a part of me. It’s a given that there will be a range of reactions to characters as they develop.

There’s also an underlying theme here. Motherhood, and mother-daughter relationships are something that I explore a lot, in a never-ending quest to figure some things out for myself. I say never-ending because I can’t imagine the questions ever being settled in my mind. This comes in part because of the tremendous gulf between my own upbringing — much more like Norma’s, in yesterday’s comments — than my own daughter’s. The question I’m always asking myself is what kind of person I would have turned out to be if I had been raised as we try to raise our Girl. One way to explore this question, something I plan to do someday, is to write a novel about a woman (set in the future, fifty or so years) who finds herself in the position of raising a clone of herself. An identical twin, in genetic terms. Watching yourself grow up, trying to avoid the mistakes that were made and making others in the process, that topic really draws me in.

Listen to me ramble. At any rate, I’m interested in the different ways people react to Elizabeth as she meets (or fails to meet) various challenges.