Published on April 25th, 2014 | by Mutha Magazine0
MUTHA Book Reviews!
ARIEL GORE’S THE END OF EVE
I first learned of Ariel Gore when a friend passed me her well-worn copy of The Hip Mama Survival Guide. I looked like I needed it: I was pregnant, alone, and living in a small cabin in the forest. My lover was in Havana. He had an ex-girlfriend who kept calling, telling me I had burnt her house down, and he probably had a new girlfriend in Caracas too. My future seemed uncertain. I found solace in those slightly torn, creased pages. Ariel spoke a truth about motherhood that I didn’t find in other parenting books. She was unafraid to say things many mothers would be shy about or ashamed to speak of. If she was afraid, she said it anyway. Her bravery won me over as one of her loyal readers. And her honesty. She does this again in her newest memoir, The End of Eve.
Ariel barely mentioned her mother in her first memoir, Atlas of the Human Heart, but in her newest work, she finally lets herself write about Eve. Ariel moves her family to New Mexico, and become her mother’s caregiver. Eve’s lungs become butterfly wings and her body the spine. Lung cancer spreads throughout her body. As the story unfolds, Ariel speaks a truth many daughters are taught to hide. We are told to represent our own mothers in haloed light, to quiet our stories of abuse and survival. Ariel breaks the silence. She writes bravely of caring for Eve during the end of her life, and she accomplishes this while staying truthful to the complexities of their relationship. Eve was beautiful, intriguing, the ex-lover of Henry Miller, and therefore one step away from the fascinating writer, Anais Nin. Eve was also violent. At night, she would wake Ariel, waving a sharp kitchen knife like Joan Crawford in the film Mommie Dearest.
As a child, Ariel would use laughter to break the spell her mother seemed to be under in times of abuse. She uses this technique of dark humor throughout her book too. The End of Eve is filled with dark comedy. And magic. She recounts the times she thumbed through random books for oracles. There are images of crows and dying birds on doorsteps that surface throughout the story. There is a wild mountain lion that only her mother can see. There is the desert snow, and then wild fires.
Throughout all of this there is also the end of a love affair, and the beginning of a new one. There are African violet tattoos, Mexican spices, and the sweet anticipation that comes before sorrow. Ariel’s life continues along in New Mexico, even as Eve’s life slowly comes to a close. At the end of the memoir, Eve asks her daughter, “Do you think memoir writing is a way to express anger or a way to pay tribute?” And Ariel answers, “Maybe both.” As an aspiring memoirist, this dialogue haunted me long after the last page.
Ariel speaks to the abuse that women perpetuate, the fear that as mothers, we might continue the violence we were raised up on. At one point Eve asks Ariel if she was abused. Ariel replies, “Sometimes I think of it that way.” Eve almost seems not to hear her. This small moment speaks loudly to the abuse daughters at times suffer from their mothers. That very real confusion over the past: I think it was abuse, though sometimes I will not claim it. I have listened to the quieted doubt of a friend: My mother was not as violent as her own mother. It wasn’t that bad. This similar quietness is spoken within the pages of Ariel’s memoir. Abuse by women is so hard to speak of: it twists and coils and disguises itself as tough love, as a hazy forgotten memory until daughters are left wondering the truth of their own childhoods. And then what happens? Do we shuffle the truths until the sweet haloes are back in place, or do we claim our buried sorrows and refuse to give our own children the grief we have silently carried?
Late at night, when my daughter was asleep, I would return to Ariel’s memoir. I cherished the pages for the details she was unafraid to write. Ariel did not diminish her complicated relationship with her mother. She stayed truthful throughout. She took their shared past and handed it to me, unashamed: This is what I remember. Perhaps you remember something too. As I read, I was crouched down beside Ariel as she appeared in the memoir, with a cup of gas station coffee looking out over the railroad tracks, looking back, and then forward at what was to come. At the end of her book, Ariel hands us something round and shiny like a polished stone found in the garden. She shows us her own tender patience with her young son and teenage daughter. She makes us believe it is possible to break the cycles of violence within our families. To speak our truths whatever they may be. To set ourselves free.
– Sarah Maria Medina
CORY SILVERBERG + FIONA SMYTH’S WHAT MAKES A BABY
A book that comes with ‘A book for every kind of FAMILY and every kind of KID’ stamped on its cover is making a big promise and What Makes A Baby fully delivers, breaking down pregnancy and the creating of families into the ridiculously simple need for an egg, sperm and uterus, repeatedly offering the information that some bodies have such things and some do not. ‘You might think that everyone has a uterus, since it has the words YOU and US in it. But not everyone has a uterus.’
What Makes a Baby pretty much owns the market for non-gendered ‘Where did I come from?’ storybooks. It’s illustrated by feminist comic artist Fiona Smyth, whose amazing graphics of weird-cute animal-girl hybrids I regularly swiped to make flyers with in the ’90s. Smyth’s art for What Makes a Baby manages to be gender-neutral without being neutered; happy rainbow people with squiggly sperms or radiant eggs in their nethers spread their wiggly arms and smile. As for the Sperm and Egg, the moment of conception is drawn like a do-si-do between a couple of kids in stripey pants and sneakers. ‘The egg tells the sperm all the stories it has to tell about the body it came from. And the sperm tells the egg all the stories it has to tell about the body it came from.’
Towards the end of the book the people look like actual people, while keeping their multi-colored hues; a park scenario shows many configurations of families and couplings, with a variety of ages and physical abilities. Two pages dealing with birth depict both a natural (‘Some babies are born by coming out through a part of the body that most people call the vagina.’) and a cesarean birth. The language throughout manages to be careful and thoughtful without feeling labored or precious; it’s a perfect book for queer families where the individual carrying the baby may not identify as female, or for a burgeoning family like my own, where the egg, sperm and uterus all come from different people. But What Makes a Baby is a perfect primer for all families, as it strips the story of birth down to its universal essentials without stripping away any of the joy or magic from the event, teaching all kids – not just the offspring of queers who probably already know – that families come together in all sorts of fantastic ways.
– Michelle Tea
INNOSANTO NAGARA’S A IS FOR ACTIVIST
It’s never too early to introduce a kid to the concept of peace marches, ‘questioning coercion’, and Zapatistas. This board book,full of rich illustrations that sometimes resemble stencils, other times collage, takes a toddler through an alphabet populated with hand-holding LGBTQs, Malcolm X and indigenous and immigrant peoples. Who doesn’t love an drawing of a scowling, tough-ass toddler holding a NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE sign? An alternative to the banal ‘A is for Apple’ type books – or, even more puzzling, alphabet books set in a pastoral fantasyland few contemporary kids occupy – A is for Activist is all revved up with the sort of energy that sparks grassroots movements (and yes, G is for Grassroots), never losing sight of the children its addressing. ‘Kings are fine for storytime. Knights are fun to play. But when we make decisions we will choose the people’s way!’ doesn’t rain on any princess parades, but inserts the notion that monarchy is a bunch of malarky. Nods to Occupy (the Charging Bull) and the Industrial Workers of the World (U is for Union, which gets due credit for beloved weekends) pop up as winks to adult readers; indeed, the IWW’s mascot black cat, Sabo-Tabby, shows up in the background of many pages, finally arching its back and hissing for worker’s rights. Simply put, this book rules. May it spark a revolution of baby board books that actually speak to the real worlds these babies will grow up and into. – Michelle Tea