Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly Parental Privilege

Somebody at Chronicle Books has some serious mother issues.

By Mari Wadsworth

MAY 11, 1998:  Generations of Women In Their Own Words, photographs by Mariana Cook (Chronicle Books). Cloth, 27.50.

Expectations, by Laurie Wagner and Anne Hamersky (Chronicle Books). Cloth, $22.95.

SOMEBODY AT CHRONICLE Books has some serious mother issues--perhaps not personally, but certainly professionally. The San Francisco-based press has released a trio of books just in time for Mother's Day on May 10, and all three endeavor to present a different twist on a role that, for all its importance, tends to be the least-exalted in our post-feminist culture. Borrowing from voices both historic and contemporary (see "Literary Lineage" above), and crossing a wide range of economic, social and generational boundaries, these three books offer a thorough examination of maternity.

Generations is a photo document by Mariana Cook (whose previous efforts include the best-selling Fathers and Daughters and Mothers and Sons). Her sensitive, intimate portraits artfully capture both the physical traits and ethereal expressions handed down from one group of women to the next. Included also are autobiographical texts by the subjects themselves, which in combination with Cook's lovely black-and-whites provide a thoroughly engaging study of how two people--mother and daughter--can simultaneously be so alike and so different; or so alike even when one believes herself to be quite different, as in the case of one third-generation teenage mom who completes a cycle described, unbeknownst to her, by her grandmother: "I'm a lot wiser than my mother was," says the 18-year-old mother of a newborn. "I don't want my daughter making the same mistakes, having children so early, growing up too fast. I won't allow her to do that. I won't."

Expectations also offers a pictorial view, but draws its inspiration more directly from interviews with new mothers. Author Laurie Wagner interviewed some 70 women before choosing the 30 interviews that appear here, and she does a fine job of capturing the insight that "no one knows quite what to expect when they're expecting." Adopted moms, a mother of triplets, a mom struggling to overcome her addiction to heroin and speed, career moms: All speak eloquently on how the biological act of motherhood transformed and deepened their lives in ways they would not--indeed, could not--have anticipated.

Writer Mary Truitt Hill sums up the sentiment of both books in this excerpt from Generations: "I said to my mother, 'I'll be fine if the chaos will just end for three days.' She started to laugh and said, 'Oh, Mary, the chaos is never going to end. The only peace there is is the peace with which you greet the chaos.' That changed my life completely." And, one presumes, for the better.

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