Saturday, November 3, 2018

Review: Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies

Some little girls dream about being mothers when they grow up. They love babysitting and being around little kids. They coo over babies. I was not one of those little girls. In fact, my mother admitted that when I called to tell her that we were having a baby, she was thrilled but a little surprised, not certain that I'd ever want children. And in truth, to this day I really struggle with other people's children. (My kids would probably say there are days I struggle with them too.) Motherhood was never a given for me. So when I find other people who have or had a rather ambivalent feeling about becoming a mother, I am eager to see if their experience mirrors mine in any way. Dawn Davies is a mother but she didn't always want to be one, nor has her motherhood journey been an easy one. Mothers of Sparta, her "memoir in pieces," chronicles her journey, her life, and her decisions, pre- and post-motherhood.

Instead of a straight memoir, this is a collection of essays, not told chronologically. Many of the essays talk about aspects of life as a mother, divorce, blended families, and pregnancy and childbirth and its sometimes deeply unpretty aftermath. She can be funny. She can tug at heartstrings. She is fierce. She is fumbling. Above all, though, she is unfailingly honest. It is in fact this span of emotions that make this such an uneven reading experience. Thematically the essays all hang together but the tone varies wildly, as does the reader's interest in each essay. The strongest, most visceral story in here, is that of mothering her son and the toll that his mental illness takes on everyone in the family. It is a hard read, seeing how little support there is in the real world for dealing with a severely troubled child, how scary the present is and how uncertain the future. Contrast this heart deep essay with the light and frivolous essay listing of men Davies would have slept with and why and you have a sense of the wild swings contained here. When Davies is at her most raw, the writing is well done. When she is a little more removed, some of her sentences are convoluted or overwritten, reaching for emotion that comes so effortlessly in other places. As a whole this doesn't always hang together comfortably and my attention wavered at the abrupt jumps in tone so this is perhaps a better book to delve into piece by piece rather than in its entirety.

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