Penguin Press HC, New York, 2009. ISBN 978-1-594-20216-2.
Reviewed by Mary Jo Doig
Posted on 07/21/2009
Like many women, I decided who my mother was long ago, sometime in childhood.
Thus begins Ruth Reichl's latest memoir, Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way. I paused there to remember my first meeting with Ruth's mother in Tender at the Bone, when Miriam Reichl accidentally caused food poisoning in several people at a party. Mim, as Reichl called her mother, provided the author with dozens of stories to sprinkle throughout previous books and I clearly remember their relationship as contentious.
In her new small book, Reichl tells us a big story. Following Mim's death, Reichl began to read through a boxful of her mother's diaries and letters and there found the voice of a woman she had never known: a bright woman who, by age 5, wanted to be a doctor just like her father but who lived in an era where a woman's role was not to have a career but rather to get married, stay home, and have children. Miriam Reichl was singularly mismatched for all three roles and that, her daughter came to understand as she read further into her mother's papers, was the primary reason for much of the outrageous behavior and mental illness her mother exhibited during her life.
Miriam Reichl was also a woman who wanted to write the story of her life, another uncompleted dream, and Ruth Reichl has just touchingly fulfilled that one for her.
Ruth Reichl is the editor in chief of Gourmet, the author of three earlier bestselling memoirs, Comfort Me with Apples, Tender at the Bone, and Garlic and Sapphires, and the editor for the comprehensive Gourmet Cookbook. She has been the restaurant critic at The New York Times and the food editor and restaurant critic at the Los Angeles Times. She lives in New York City. You can learn more about the author on her website.
(See other reviews of this book, which was later published as For You Mom, Finally, here and here)
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