Thursday, February 18, 2010

Review: American Daughter by Elizabeth Kendall

The oldest of six children, Elizabeth Kendall was born when her mother was barely into adulthood herself and became not just a mirror of her mother but a miniature version, complete in almost all ways. She was the one of her siblings who was closest to her mother, as confidante, helper, and friend, despite their difference in age and their putative relationship as parent and child. This tightness was shattered when Kendall was in college and her mother was killed in a car accident with Kendall driving. Many years on, realizing that despite her deep emotional bond with her mother and the idea that she was her mother's twin, Kendall needed to go back in her history and find out who the woman she'd revered for all those years really was. This book is the result of her own memories, her siblings' memories, and interviews with friends and family, reconstructing Betty Kendall as she was then, in the process finding out who Elizabeth Kendall is now.

Kendall starts her tale with her mother's death and then travels back in time to the night her parents met, covering their courtship, early marriage, and family life, including her mother's atypical breaking out of the role of young society matron confered on her by family, position, and class. Betty Kendall was the daughter of socially prominent St. Louisans, as was her husband, and she started her marriage trying to fit into the prescribed role of the day as a young married woman. As time passed and children were added to the family, Betty started to explore the world beyond her marriage with the volatile, mercurial Henry, volunteering for the St. Louis Association for Retarded Children (Kendall's youngest sister Faith was brain damaged) and joining the civil rights movement. As Betty grew and matured into her life, Elizabeth grew into hers as well.

As much a social history of the changing roles of women across some of the most turbulent years of the twentieth century as it is a history of Elizabeth Kendall's particular mother, this makes for interesting reading. The writing here is introspective and Kendall certainly takes many opportunities to examine her own perceptions about her late mother and their relationship. Certainly an exploration into her lost mother, I sometimes found it a challenge to stay engaged in the story. Perhaps I am of the wrong generation, taking for granted so much of what was clearly hard fought in the years following WWII but somehow this didn't have the emotional resonance I would have expected. It is technically well written but the spark that would make it stand out head and shoulders above other biography/ memoirs of its type was missing for me. Despite this, I would certainly recommend this to readers interested in women's history, the personal versus the public and those curious about mother daughter relationships during changing times.

1 comment:

  1. I loved your thought-provoking review. I've often thought about the hard-won rights girls and women of our generation take for granted. This sounds really good!


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts