BROADWAY BABY by Alan Shapiro

broadway babyA book about mothers, impossible or otherwise.  Or are there really any ‘otherwise’ kinds of mothers?  Are the mothers of each of us all impossible?  Are we who are mothers impossible?  The eye of the beholder?

Miriam is the only child of Tula, a Jewish immigrant, straight off the boat with her parents, who promptly marry her off at age 15 to a butcher.  To a butcher!  She never forgave them the butcher, by whom she had a daughter whom she just as promptly left with her parents to raise as she divorced the butcher.  The butcher!  She was meant for greater things, and so created her own dress business in downtown Boston, where she presided, elegant and charming, permanent cigarette in holder in her hand.

But this is not really her story.  It is the story of her daughter, Miriam, neglected and unwanted by her mother, fussed over by her grandparents, who can see from the apartment window the billboard on top of Fleischman’s Bakers advertising the Ziegfeld Follies with Fanny Brice.  Nourished by dreams of show business and the theater, she is finally taken, when she is ten, to Manhatten, where her mother has arranged to meet her married lover.  After leaving Miriam alone first in the hotel lobby, then in front of the windows of a toy store, to go off with her lover, she finally returns with the lover and his daughter and they go to see a Broadway show.  From that day on. Miriam yearns for a life in the theater, and her own  mundane life has background music from the great musicals playing in her head.

It is the story of what an awful mother she had, and how in trying to be the opposite, she alienates her own children in the process, by doing for and about them what ‘she thinks best for them,”  thus creating another impossible mother.  It is the story of good intentions and the frailty of love, but the tough bindings of loyalty and duty.

I found this to be a profoundly emotionally-charged book, and was astounded at how well the male author understood the female psyche.   Miriam was vividly real, as was her distant mother.  And her children were the enigmas that all children are to all parents.

It poses the question:  can children who are raised without love learn to love?

 

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