At the very least, dealing with the death of an elderly parent is traumatic, but in the case of Louanne Antrim, author Donald Antrimís mother, an alcoholic artist and writer, the son is faced with an avalanche of memories that threaten to unmoor him.
With coping skills honed over the troubled years of his motherís active alcoholism, Antrim has an angst-riddled relationship with the woman who has dominated his childhood and tortured his adulthood, worrying for her safety while at the same time struggling to find independence.
His first experience with her death is an ordeal: finding a mattress, a place where he can sleep soundly and safely, to recover from the turmoil engendered by Louanneís demise. No matter how expensive the mattress, Donald can find no peace, sending one after another back to the store for a refund. Clearly there will be no easy answer in this journey.
By the time of her death from cancer, Antrimís mother has at last achieved some years of sobriety, although her wily character is so entrenched that her behavior, while no longer self-destructive, is certainly self-involved. The author addresses the true nature of his early family life, an alcoholic mother with an unnatural dependence on her young son and a father diminished by his spouseís excesses, finally driven to divorce.
Bred of dysfunction, Antrimís parents marry and divorce, unable to resist the siren call of their unhealthy relationship but finally separating for good. With Louanneís advancing disease, the fatherís weekend visits cease, Donald the family scapegoat, his younger sister the rescuer. At heart, Don remains the object of his motherís affection and disdain, pulled into the role of man of the house but derided for his failures in her drunken rages.
Because he is a sickly child, encouraged by his mother, son bonds with her in illness, boundaries ignored, virtually crippling a young man searching for identity. Louanne inhabits her own world, bending her children to fit that bizarre space, years of false hubris and ďcreativityĒ, delusions and paranoia, her health gradually declining.
In this valiant effort to make peace with his past, the authorís recollections include hallmarks of the disease - the drunken rants, family fights, ritualized holidays designed to obscure the true extent of family disharmony. Hyper-responsible, Donald dutifully attends to the needs of his failing mother in her final days.
No matter how the author rationalizes his motherís eccentricities, the unsaid is as powerful as what is written: Louanne Antrim remains a monster, unable, even in sobriety, to heal the breech with her children or to make amends. To the end, she remains a grasping child. Only in the final pages does the author confront the continued chaos, the violence, the transience of his childhood and his motherís battle with life: ďMy mother lived her life inviting death.Ē Freed from the greedy tentacles of his motherís fatal disease, Antrim attempts peace with a harrowing past. Fortunately, in the telling begins recovery.