If there was ever a time for a dose of temporary amnesia to benefit one’s mental health, this may the time for it. After all, who wouldn’t want to purge every bit of the political dialogue along with all the fear and anxiety that has accompanied the age of Corona?
Robin Wasserman’s “Mother Daughter Widow Wife” is part escapist, part thriller and part mind-bending in its telling of the stories of Wendy Doe, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Epstein and Alice Clark.
Lizzie is this book’s main protagonist, her story rolled out in a non-linear fashion — both in her time as Lizzie, and as her more grown-up counterpart, Elizabeth. As she narrates, she is most everything the title of the book states —daughter to the mother that abandoned the family, as well as wife and widow to her one-time mentor, Benjamin Strauss.
Lizzie/Elizabeth is pulled into Benjamin’s world when she’s awarded a fellowship at his institute in Philadelphia — studying the brain in a facility that once housed hysterics in the early 20th century. Benjamin is intelligent, arrogant and married — and a once headstrong young woman finders herself increasingly enamored in his presence, taking on one of his projects — Wendy Doe.
Wendy, a mother, daughter and wife, finds herself at the institute’s mercy, with no memory of who she is, with nowhere to go. Agreeing to be a subject in Benjamin and Lizzie’s study of memory, Wendy becomes that voice you’ve heard before — the one that says, after a long day of parenting, spousing and working, “Ugh, what would it be like to just get on a plane and disappear?”
The reason so very few of us ever pull that trigger? Alice Clark, the daughter left behind, wondering what has become of her mother when Wendy/Karen has disappeared — again.
I mean, yeah — who doesn’t occasionally entertain the fantasy. Laying on the sand somewhere tropical, toes dipped into the warm blue sea, fancy drink with an umbrella in it, stack of books at your side … but then the logistics get in the way. Credit cards are traceable. The husband doesn’t know what kind of cereal to buy. Who’s going to walk the dog?
And that’s not even addressing the reality of being able to forget the day-to-day in sabbatical fashion. Wendy is the epitome of that. She’s the personification of an adult id — no memory of who she is, thus no feelings of regret, pride, love, longing, shame, and other behavioral traits that shape appropriate actions in the present. And a sense that the longer she remains in the fugue, she will turn into someone that will be lost forever once her body’s original psyche returns to claim it.
Book clubs could spend days dissecting the mother/daughter relationships, father/daughter relationships, the absence of parents in relationships, the absence of understanding what people even want out of relationships, what we give up to get a relationship … there’s a lot going on. Which is what makes it an engaging read. Please, someone. Anyone, I need to debrief on Elizabeth. And Alice. Oh my goodness, Alice.