Sunday, January 10, 2010
Letter to My Daughter
It’s early morning and I’m sitting here wondering where you are, hoping you’re all right.
A fight, ended by a slap, sends Elizabeth out the door of her Baton Rouge home on the eve of her fifteenth birthday. Her mother, Laura, is left to fret and worry—and remember. Wracked with guilt as she awaits Liz’s return, Laura begins a letter to her daughter, hoping to convey “everything I’ve always meant to tell you but never have.”
In her painfully candid confession, Laura shares memories of her own troubled adolescence in rural Louisiana, growing up in an intensely conservative household. She recounts her relationship with a boy she loved despite her parents’ disapproval, the fateful events that led to her being sent away to a strict Catholic boarding school, the personal tragedy brought upon her by the Vietnam War, and, finally, the meaning of the enigmatic tattoo below her right hip.
Absorbing and affirming, George Bishop’s magnificent debut brilliantly captures a sense of time and place with a distinct and inviting voice. Letter to My Daughter is a heartwrenching novel of mothers, daughters, and the lessons we all learn when we come of age.
Review. After a terrible family fight, Laura, the protagonist in a Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop, pens a letter to her runaway daughter Liz. While Laura awaits fifteen year old Liz’s return she decides to write her a letter. In short, to tell her daughter the things she always wanted to tell her, but never did.
Laura’s conversational letter, which spans the length of the novella, is her attempt to share her own tumultuous teenage years during the Vietnam era. As Laura confesses:
" If I could speak now to my fifteen-year–old self, I might tell her to be more forgiving of her parents. Maybe they were doing the best they could. It’s possible. If adulthood has taught me anything, it’s that even grown-ups are fallible. We’re not a whole lot smarter than we were at fifteen. We still feel the same stir of emotions, the same awkward human needs and doubts we felt when we were teenagers. Only the shell grows thicker; the inside, the more tender parts, remain surprisingly unchanged. Often – and this is a secret that not many parents will tell their children – often we don’t know what the hell we’re doing. And so we yell, we shout, we slap our children.
We still make mistakes, daughter. Oh yes, all the time."
This slender (126 pages), yet riveting novella, can easily be devoured in one sitting. The letter itself is believable as a mother writing to her young daughter. Letter to My Daughter is a compelling and candid coming of age saga of young life and love during the early seventies.
Publisher: Ballantine Books (February 16, 2010), 160 pages
Advance Review Copy Provided Courtesy of the Publisher.