Missing Mom is the story of how an adult daughter copes with the unexpected death of her widowed mother. Nikki Eaton is 32, single, involved with a married man, and seems barely ready for adulthood. Her mother’s death knocks her off her pins.
Coping is the best way to describe what Nikki goes through in her first year of mourning. She and her older sister, the bossy, no-nonsense Clare, realize that their mother was the only real bond between them as they work together to organize the formal ceremonies, sort through their parents’ belongings, and try to keep their personal lives intact.
Through this process, as Nikki comes to understand more about her mother, she understands more about herself. Nikki is not the most admirable of heroines – she has a whiney, self-indulgent streak and spends more time than an insecure teen-ager worrying about what outfit to wear – but she starts to mature as, groping for a way through her grief, she takes on some of her mother’s habits and social obligations.
Oates is unflinching in her portrayal of both the heartbreak and banality of losing a mother. Scenes such as Nikki reading her mother’s old love letters are all the more poignant for being balanced by scenes of cleaning out the freezer or filling bags for the Goodwill. Oates manages to make the story emotionally authentic without being gooey or maudlin.
Somehow, although she is prolific, this is the first Joyce Carol Oates book I have read. It really hit me and I keep thinking about it, weeks after I finished it.
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