In Motherland, long-time columnist and food writer Elissa Altman explores the complex and devastating relationship she and her mother built, tore down and rebuilt, again and again, over the course of decades. After years of engaging daily with her obsessive, narcissistic, volatile mother, Elissa has escaped from New York City to live a quiet life upstate with her wife and dog. While Elissa still calls daily to check in on her mother and continues to support her financially, she is not prepared for her mother's sudden accident, which draws them back together. Now, with years of therapy under her belt and her independence and peaceful life on the line, Elissa must attempt to maintain her distance while being drawn ever closer to the eye of her mother's storm.
Altman's writing is refreshingly frank and clear, both in style and its raw approach to sore subjects. Each episode related in this memoir takes up what seems to be an even more painful memory with unflinching exactitude. Her childhood in 1970s Queens, N.Y., is brought cinematically to life in order to, almost scientifically, study its consequences. As the narrative twists through time and gallops through emotionally earth-shattering moments in her life, Altman lays bare the question of what it means to be a daughter. While she never insists on a definitive answer to this complex question, she does provide the reader the possibility that expectation and begrudging duty can exist alongside genuine sentimental attachment. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor