Text by Diane Slocum
his month, we honor mothers, but in many books, mothers weigh heavily on their children, sometimes by their absence, sometimes by their actions.
In “Fifty Words for Rain” by Asha Lemmie, “The New Wilderness” by Diane Cook and “God Shot” by Chelsea Bieker, mothers abandon their daughters.
In Lemmie’s story, in post-war Japan, 8-year-old Nori’s mother leaves her with wealthy grandparents she had never met. They hide their unwelcome grandchild in the attic for three years, forcing her to take acid baths to lighten her mixed-race skin. When the cherished family heir, Akira, joins the household, she gains a friend and some freedom, but her troubles are far from over.
Cook’s novel takes a group of wanderers into a future wilderness in an experiment to see if people can survive there without leaving a trace, while most of the country is a polluted, overpopulated mess. Once out of the city, dying 5-year-old Agnes thrives and, over the years, becomes expert at wilderness life. After about six years, her mother grabs a chance to return to the city, leaving Agnes to find her own way in the group.
Bieker’s novel’s mother and daughter belong to a religious cult in a tiny San Joaquin town suffering from drought. Fourteen-year-old Lacey May is a faithful follower of Pastor Vern until her mother takes a chance to bolt from the church and abandon her, leaving Lacey to live with her weird grandmother and questioning everything about her life.
In “Almond” by Won-pyung Sohn, “The Orchard” by David Hopen and “Rabbit Cake” by Annie Hartnett, a mother’s death has a profound influence on the characters’ lives, even though in Hopen’s novel, it isn’t the main character whose mother died.
In Lysley Tenorio’s “Son of Good Fortune,” Excel has to grow up as invisible as possible, hiding in the U.S. illegally while his mother scams men on dating sites for a living.
In “Raceless,” the nonfiction story of her own life, Georgina Lawton explains how she faced an invisibility of her own as her white parents in England ignored the fact that she obviously was partly Black.
Go to David Anthony Durham’s new website to catch up with the former CSUF associate professor’s latest works. His upcoming novel, “The Shadow Prince,” is due out in September from Lee & Low Books. This solarpunk fantasy novel for middle graders follows Ash, an Egyptian orphan who has been assigned to compete to be the shadow and protector of the prince. He must prevail over an evil god who has his own candidate to inherit the throne.
Durham has been praised by no less than George R.R. Martin, the Washington Post and Booklist. Four of his stories have appeared in Martin’s “Wild Card” novels: Fort Freak, Lowball, High Stakes and Texas Hold ‘Em. He has another coming in Pairing Up. His short fiction has also appeared in Unbound, Unfettered and Unfettered II.
His other novels are “The Risen,” “The Sacred Band,” “Acacia: The War with the Mein,” “The Other Lands,” “The Pride of Carthage,” “Walk Through Darkness” and “Gabriel’s Story.”
He currently teaches in MFA programs at the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Maine.
100 YEARS AGO
Some books have a long shelf life. Some that were published in 1921 that are still familiar today include fiction such as one of the books of the “Anne of Green Gables” series, “Rilla of Ingleside” by L.M. Montgomery, the play “Six Characters in Search of an Author” by Luigi Pirandello, “Scaramouche” by Rafael Sabatini, “Chrome Yellow” by Aldous Huxley and “The Royal Book of Oz” by Ruth Plumly Thompson.
In nonfiction, 1921 publications include Carl Jung’s “Psychological Types” and “The Intellectual Life” by Antonin Sertillanges.
Deadline for The Writer Short Story Contest is June 1. Grand prize is $1,000 and publication in the magazine. Prizes also for second and third place.
Two-thousand word maximum. Entry fee: $25. Critique: $25 extra. Entrants must be 18 years or older. Details at: writermag.com/contests. Contests with May deadlines listed there also.
THE LAST WORD
“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)