Bonnie Jo Campbell’s short story collection, Mothers, Tell Your Daughters is honest, bitter, sad and powerful. The book consists of sixteen short stories, two of which run only about a page. The collection of stories centers around women, many about motherhood and the complicated relationships between mothers and daughter. The stories will remind you of your own mistakes. Many of the stories have been published in other publications prior to this collection.
The stories are far from happy tales of weddings and grandchildren, the stories are centered around the effects of relationships with men, the effect of life-altering decisions and how mothers and daughters cope with each other and the mistakes that are made. Campbell illuminates what its like to be a mother and how to cope as a daughter. The stories tell of abuse and trauma and how the women perform violent acts of their own in response. The women are strong survivors, rather than victims demanding pity.
In the title story, “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters,” the narrator, a mother, tells the story of her life, her mistakes and regrets in her own head while she is hospitalized and unable to speak to her own daughter. In the narration, she seems to want to apologize to her in a way but also leans heavily on the concept that she did the best she could with what she had. In “Playhouse”, a woman makes questionable decisions after drinking too much tequila.
The collection shows women navigating the world, relationships, triumphs and failures. Campbell shows them as fighters, with the strength to get through even the worst of times, all with a little bit of grace. Campbell shows the darker sides of growing up and how the decisions that are made impact the self as well as those around them. The landscape for most of the stories is the rural Midwest.
The collection is balanced with equal parts hope and despair, but in the end it’s powerful and resonates. The characters are very real, like you’ve known them before and they’ll be with you long after. The power and strength in each of the stories is contagious and even though some of the stories are hard, you’ll feel like a better person having experienced them.
Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by W.W. Norton & Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.