All My Mother's Lovers
Maggie has always had a complicated relationship with her mother, Iris, who could never get on board with Maggie’s queer identity. Twenty-seven and perpetually single, Maggie’s finally found love in Lucia when Iris suddenly dies, leaving behind five letters mysteriously addressed to five men. Letters in tow, Maggie embarks on a road trip to confront these men and learn about her mother, whose presence—even after death—looms large.
Afia Atakora’s masterful debut novel takes place in two parts, before and after the Civil War. Before the war, Miss May Belle is renowned as a healing woman and delivers every baby on her master’s plantation. Determined to keep her daughter, Rue, nearby—and deemed useful by the master—she teaches Rue everything she knows. After the war, May Belle has died and Rue must carry on in her place, though she lacks her mother’s charm and rouses the town people’s suspicions.
Pride and Prejudice
Not every mom is perfect, but almost every mom is deserving of understanding and compassion. Austen invites readers to sympathize with Mrs. Bennett, who spends much of this classic novel trying to marry off her daughters, even as her shallowness and superficiality prove vexing. Love and vexation—doesn’t that sum up pretty much every mother-child relationship? (If you feel like you know Pride and Prejudice inside out, get a whole new view with the annotated version, an Austenite’s dream.)
I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This
Nadja Spiegelman—daughter of Françoise Mouly, New Yorker art director, and Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus—weaves together a memoir of matrilineal inheritance and the secrets she discovers in the reasons her mother left Paris. Spiegelman travels back through generations, telling stories through memory and family lore, and tracking the habits, neuroses, and patterns of how mothers and daughters love one another. Slate wrote that what Elena Ferrante did for female friends, Spiegelman does for mothers and daughters—high praise, indeed.
The Joy Luck Club
Tan’s collection of interlinked stories, a classic of Asian American literature, portrays several relationships between mothers and daughters. Because the mother characters tend to heed custom and tradition more dutifully than their daughters, Tan’s stories also shed light on the intergenerational differences that can complicate, and also sometimes enhance, mother-child relationships.
The Margot Affair
Margot Louve is 17 when she’s finally had enough of hiding in the shadows. The secret child of a French politician and famous actress, Margot sees her small family gather only rarely and clandestinely, in the unassuming Paris apartment where she and her mother live unassuming lives. Margot’s regret begins to catch up with her as she feeds the story to a well-regarded journalist: in focusing on her father’s absence, she’s neglected to appreciate her mother’s presence.
As I Lay Dying
The fragmented chapters that make up Faulkner’s classic amount to a collective elegy for the mother character, Addie Bundren, whose death opens the novel and whose strange burial request spurs much of its wrenching drama. Her youngest son Vardaman’s heartbreakingly lucid proclamation—“My mother is a fish”—telegraphs the particular tragedy of losing a mom.
You often see lists of books to give for Mother’s Day, but less frequently do you see books that, in their explorations of mother-child relationships, hit home the importance of celebrating the matriarchs in our lives. These stories about the joys, tears, and frustrations of having a mother will do just that.
Featured Image: @eleonora.guerini/Twenty20