Friday, May 29, 2009

Maria Laurino's "Old World Daughter, New World Mother"

Maria Laurino is the author of Were You Always an Italian?, a national bestseller.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Old World Daughter, New World Mother: An Education in Love & Freedom, and reported the following:
From Page 99:

“You must have a really strong mother,” a young assistant editor at the Voice remarked to me one day as we stood by the restroom sink, the central place for girl talk at the paper.

The observation, announced out of the blue by someone who didn’t know me but seemed extremely intuitive about mothers, startled me. I fiddled with the faucet, unsure of how to respond. She was the shy and literary daughter of a well-known feminist who wrote novels and essays about trapped women like my mother. Finding my way through the labyrinthine world of New York City politics working with the macho gang, I regarded my ambition and determination as a reaction to, not the fruit of, my mother’s steady presence. The constant attention that my brother required, along with raising two other children, cooking, cleaning, and reentering the workforce as a typist to help pay for Bob’s and my college tuition, ensured that my mother personified the opposite of a “free woman.”

As I opened my book to page 99, I was again surprised. Years ago the remark, “You must have a really strong mother,” left me speechless. This time, I recognized that the anecdote on page 99 revealed one of the book’s central themes.

Old World Daughter, New World Mother is both a memoir and a meditation on contemporary feminism. I try to sort out dueling influences in my life: growing up in an “Old World” family, in which the word “dependence” was considered a good thing, versus embracing a “New World” feminism that championed personal autonomy. It wasn’t until I had a child that I began to see how our society has failed badly in balancing those opposing values.

The poet Mark Doty observes that writers come to memoir from all different genres, “and that primary genre (a habitual way of making meaning) seems to make all the difference.” He suggests that fiction writers often seem most concerned with the creation of a narrator, poets seek “a representation of how it feels to live,” and essayists are out to build “a line of thinking, and characters and incidents are there in order to support that movement.” Doty’s observation captured my intent. I am an essayist and a journalist and my book is, in large part, a call to reconsider the reality of dependency in our lives.

When this scene took place, I was a reporter at the Village Voice. The idea that I might have a strong mother was incongruous with my new life experience in which strength was about female autonomy, not subservience and submission. I was angry that my mother had devoted her life to caring for my mentally disabled brother. The young woman’s observation about my mother lingered for years, and I couldn’t offer the obvious answer – yes, I do have a strong mother. This incident fueled a central line of thinking in my book – that the feminist movement’s historical and pivotal achievement was to create an antithesis to women’s traditional subservience: autonomy against caregiving. Yet we still haven’t found a sustainable synthesis of the two.
Learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue