Book description: When Phil Jourdan’s mother died suddenly in 2009, she left behind a legacy of kindness and charity; but she also left unanswered some troubling questions. Was she, as she once claimed, a spy? Had she suffered more profoundly as a woman and parent than she’d let on? Jourdan’s recollections of his struggles with psychosis, and his reconstructions of conversations with his enigmatic mother, form the core of this memoir. Psychoanalysis, poetry and confession all merge to tell the story of an ordinary woman whose death turned her into a symbol for extraordinary motherhood.
My review: I have to admit my feelings about this book were all over the place. I had a lot of trouble getting into the book. Jourdan describes a childhood with a liberal mother who seemingly allowed her children, pets, and staff to do pretty much whatever they chose to do. Jourdan apparently chose to start fires. Frequently and using whatever was on hand or had recently annoyed him. He was a pyromaniac suffering from depression, psychosis, and describes himself as a sociopath. After reading further, though, I do wonder if his social isolation stems more from Asperger’s Syndrome than being a sociopath. Not only do I not know the author, but I’m hardly qualified to diagnose such a thing. However, just the possibility made me sympathize more with a person who at first seemed beyond sympathy.
Most of the book is written in a stream-of-consciousness style, with an odd way of switching point-of-view mid-paragraph with no warning. It’s also deeper and more philosophical than I usually read. Jourdan gets a little wordy at times, but I can’t really complain about that as I’ve been known to do that a time or two myself while writing.
Jourdan goes off on tangents of fantasy to try to explain the parts of his mother’s life with which he is unfamiliar. Almost one full chapter is devoted to the speculation of the life story of a man who may or may not even have existed. Also, the book title seems misleading to me. This book is really about the author and his relationship with his mother is a secondary story line.
About halfway through, the book finally “clicked” for me. Jourdan is brutally honest in describing his feelings. He’s angry and he’s numb and he’s confused. Just as many of us are after a tragedy, but are afraid to speak those feelings for fear they’ll make us look bad or different. It’s very obvious that despite whatever difficulties may have existed between Jourdan and his mother, he loved her deeply. He writes of the numbness he feels in the days after her death, the feeling that it must all be a grand joke that his mother was playing on him and his sister. I especially liked it when he wrote of the time the two of them spent in the kitchen.
I felt a bond with her stronger than any other, and it was because we were in the kitchen, doing something I cared nothing about in theory, but enjoying it still because we were together and loved each other.
It was heart-breaking to read of his mental breakdowns in his teen years and how terrified he was to tell his mother what was wrong even as he desperately wanted help, but it helped make sense of many things. If I understood correctly, he was only 20-21 years old at the time of her death. This isn’t mentioned until close to end of the book, but it actually explains a lot. A typical young man of that age is still in the “selfish” phase. He isn’t old enough yet to really cherish his parents and want to take the time to get to know them. After a lifetime of depression and other severe issues, it’s hardly surprising that Jourdan didn’t know his mother very well. He’s still trying to get to know himself.
Chapter 12 is very poignant and what I expected from the whole book when I chose to read it — except the last section of the chapter, which was just weird and had nothing to do with his mother. And I have to say that the duct tape incident is quite entertaining, considering the context.
Content warning: This book contains a scene depicting child molestation and one line about oral sex with a prostitute (not in the same scene).
I received this book free from the author through Novel Publicity in exchange for an honest review.
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About the book: Praise of Motherhood is a son’s tribute to the woman who not only gave him life, but helped him live: through various psychotic breakdowns, tumultuous teenage years, and years of feeling out of place in the world. Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. About the author: Phil Jourdan fronts the lit-rock band Paris and the Hiltons, runs the fiction press Perfect Edge Books, and occasionally works on a PhD. Visit Phil on his blog, music site, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.