Reading Matters

Spate of books on lost daughters and lost mothers

I still haven’t read Garth Risk Halberg’s “City on Fire,” that 900-page novel about New York City in the mid-70s.

But I learned something wonderful as I was Googling Halberg several months ago. It’s his literary blog called The Millions, where I can read about all sorts of books I might not otherwise run across.

This week, I signed on to his blog and found a review of Lynn Steger Strong’s novel, “Hold Still,” about lost girls and their mothers. The reviewer, Martha Anne Toll, wrote:

“To what should girls aspire when an entire culture, including a culture of smart literary women, values them for how little of them there is?”

Isn’t it the truth? That thin thing. That thin thing we mothers and grandmothers don’t really believe in but we admire it anyway.

We try to keep our mouths shut. We emphasize “healthy” eating. Not thin eating. But our feelings slip through our lips like lizards and invade our daughters’ and granddaughters’ psyches.

And we do it to each other, too.

“Lost weight?” we say. “You’re looking good.”

When will we stop?

Reviewer Toll says that Strong’s book joins a spate of recent novels that “explores lost girls and their mothers. Some of these books feature tragic, deceased girls, while others feature hart-rending girls who though not physically lost, have lost themselves.

“Their mothers, all of them white, share certain characteristics around abandonments – some have been abandoned by one or both parents, some becomes abandoners. Like their daughters, these mothers have a tendency to lose themseles. For the girls and mothers in these books, losing one’s way is signified by lightness/thinness.”

Toll lists several other books that concern lost daughters and mothers: Celeste Ng’s “Everything I Never Told You” (a huge favorite of mine), as well as Sari Wilson’s “Girl Through Glass,” and Nancy Reisman’s “Trompe L’Oeil.”

She emphasizes that “Hold Still” is not “an eating disorder memoir, and none of these books is about anorexia. What does jump out, however, is the undercurrent of lightness/thinness among these lost girls and their mothers.”