March 18, 2007

Alice Walker's daughter writes about her motherhood.

I'd never heard of Rebecca Walker before, but today I see two articles about her in the NYT. The first thing I read -- this piece in the Style section -- is that she's the "estranged" daughter of the radical feminist writer Alice Walker. Then I see there is also this article in the Arts section. So, presumably, you don't get an article -- certainly not two articles -- just for being the estranged offspring of someone famous. There must be a book.

The book is called "Baby Love" -- which must piss off Joyce Maynard (if not Diana Ross) -- and subtitled "Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence."

The Arts section article, by New York Observer editor Alexandra Jacobs, has a deliciously grouchy first paragraph that blames birth control for the genre of "mom-oirs." If it's a choice -- Choosing Motherhood! -- you've got a story to tell, right? Good for you. I support free choice about motherhood, but that doesn't mean I want to hear the details of how you made the very mundane choice. The details of a commonplace story can be worth reading. It might even make the best reading -- if you're the best writer. Just as motherhood is not destiny, however, having a mother who is a writer doesn't automatically make you a writer.

Jacobs clearly detests Walker's book, which she calls "merely a paean to pampering."
A Tibetan doctor, the daughter of one of the Dalai Lama’s private physicians, offers her 'little silk bags of herbs”; hovering in the background, meanwhile, are an osteopath, doula, pedicurist and masseuse....

Not to begrudge the author such luxuries, but there was no need to make the world privy to them.
But that could be good if brilliantly described, self-aware, and hilarious, don't you think? (I'm thinking of this Spalding Gray book.) Maybe Jacobs is jealous. [ADDED: And maybe -- maybe, baby -- the book sucks.]

I'd rather hear Walker tell about that estrangement from the famous writer/mother. That's an inherently more interesting subject, and not just because we love celebrities. The desire for an infant has nothing to do with a particular individual. Even if you honor your unborn child as an individual, that individual is an abstraction. It's when that baby develops a mind of its own that the story gets interesting.

So let's check out the Style piece. It's called "Evolution of a Feminist Daughter," and that title caught my attention. Yet there's nothing in this article that connects the mother's feminism to the daughter's estrangement. The most interesting thing here is that before becoming a mother, Rebecca Walker wrote about how the relationships you make are just as important as blood connections, but in her new memoir she takes it back. Confronted on the contradiction, she says she came upon the first idea to deal with her own problems with her parents, and that having a child changed her mind.
“To grapple with how my parents raised me I had to come up with a philosophy that could sustain me. Having my own child gave me the opportunity to have a completely different experience. So hence a different view.”
This shaping and reshaping of ideas to go along with one's condition in life is thoroughly human, but it unless the writer is sharp and funny and self-aware about it, why would you want to read her?

18 comments:

George said...

I'd comment on this, but I'm heading out to see "300" again.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maxine Weiss said...

A writer's complete lack of insight can be just as entertaining, and even more so, than an excessively self-aware blow-hard.

I, by the way, don't put myself in either of those two categories.

Peace, Maxine

reality check said...

but it unless the writer is sharp and funny and self-aware about it, why would you want to read her?

Assuming this is true, how do you know she's not?

I'd rather hear her tell about that estrangement from the famous writer/mother. That's an inherently more interesting subject, and not just because we love celebrities.

Sounds like you're looking for Mommie Dearest. I am not sure I understand why that is "inherently" more interesting. Sounds as though it is more interesting for you.

(Theo, you've fallen face first into your breakfast donut again, sit up straight and get a towel and you'll find the glaze will come right off.)

reality check said...

Hey Maxine, you just did a very nice "shorter Thersites".

George said...

I went back and actually read the two articles.....

How sad...

An abortion at 14...A completely mixed-up childhood...Mother won't talk to her...

Remind me never to read anything Alice Walker has ever written.

Ann Althouse said...

"Assuming this is true, how do you know she's not?"

I don't know, but I'm affected by the quote of hers that I put in the block indent and the question it dealt with (which she generated through her own writing). I'm also affected by the lack of anything compelling in the author's voice or ideas, despite the fact that she had two NYT articles written about her in one day, and despite her distinct advantages in life.

Omaha1 said...

Color purple, wanted child
With such parents, fate has smiled
Don't want me to be defiled
Why can't I be meek and mild

Feminism/real-world clash
Conscience stung by guilty lash
Liberal upbringing bash
Parents think I want the cash

My own person, I will be
Heedless of society
Having given birth I see
Someone who depends on me

reader_iam said...

Althouse: Both of the links in your first paragraph go to the same place.

For those stopping by, the first article is here.

reader_iam said...

Sorry, I meant here.

Elliott said...

One of the wonderful things about conversing with or reading other people is when they tell you something you didn't even know you didn't know. Maxine nails why I keep on coming back to Althouse.

XWL said...

I find it a bit strange that they don't name the woman (and greatest.bassist.ever) in the 'previous relationship' for Walker, given that their relationship was very public and they both are famous in their own right.

Stephanie said...

don't judge a book by it's cover (or a singular bad review)!

it is a mystery to me how you have never heard of rebecca walker until now. being alice walker's estranged daughter is the least interessting thing about rebecca. she is a best-selling author, an acclaimed speaker and teacher, and an award-winning visionary and activist in the fields of intergenerational feminism, multi-cultural identity, enlightened masculinity, and transformational human awareness.

not only that but time magazine named her one of the fifty most influential future leaders of America, at the 'tender' age of 25.

"baby love" does not, as you assume, merely deal with her decision to become a mother but with all the issues that very few mothers-to-be consider such as the socio-economic impact, as well as gender- and race-politics.

she is far from the priviledged spoiled brat you and the times make her out to be and her writings have been very important in shaping a whole generation of young feminists.

Casa Kaede said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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Pogo said...

Funny this appears along with acknowledgement of Hillary's sociopathic style.

It has become clear over time that Alice Walker has a histrionic and narcissistic borderline personality disorder. She used celebrity feminism to advance her own cause, and never ever have should have had children.

Does it make Walker's oeuvre suspect?
Maybe it should.

Pogo said...

For example, Walker -who has not yet met her only grandson- wrote Sent By Earth
A Message from the Grandmother Spirit after the Attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon
.

Wha?
Grandmother?
Hilarious.