Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Wishing for Snow by Minrose Gwin

Wishing for Snow: A Memoir

by Minrose Gwin

HarperCollins Publishers

Release Date: June 21, 2011

232 pages

ISBN: 978-0-06-204634-5

Dear Erin, 
I am trying to get in touch with the one who wrote the poems. Please forward this letter to her wherever she is. 
                                                       Her Daughter

Some of us are lucky enough to glide through life the apple of our mother's eye. Childhoods full of laughter, and games, warm smells pleasantly wafting from a kitchen, picnics and love. Lots of love.

It will not always be fun and games. Reality makes sure of that. One day will be spent dancing and singing, the next spent doing mind-numbing chores. One day hugs and kisses, the next pursed lips and a furrowed brow. 

But what Minrose Gwin experienced was so far from any semblance of normalcy, that to even read her account of it is nearly bone splintering.  Her days were harrowing countdowns to her mother's raging outbursts, or tension filled evenings between her chronically out of work stepfather and the rest of the family. Pleas to her maternal grandmother to come get her went unheeded. 

Love is a turncoat. A switchblade at the throat. 

Gwin's mother, poet Erin Taylor, fell in love at a young age and married a "dashing" aviation cadet. Fourteen months later, she was divorced and raising a baby whose father wanted nothing to do with her. Eventually, she married another man who had been in trouble with the law and couldn't keep a job to save his life. Unable to pay the rent on time, the family goes through numerous moves. Erin eventually supplements the family's meager income with various temp typing jobs, but the unhappy marriage and the frequent mood swings remain. 

Dear Minrose,

I don't know where she is. Sometimes she was here and sometimes she went away.

                                                                                            Your Mother

When an adult Gwin is contacted by members of her family revealing the conditions in which her mother is living -- living and eating in a closet, surrounded by shreds of paper and rodents throughout the house, shrunken from a bout of cancer, plagued by mental illness--she makes the choice to send her mother to a nursing home. 

Years later, after her mother loses her fight with cancer, Gwin is sent boxes of her mother's papers, journals, letters, poems and other articles. As she peruses the material, she learns her mother was not always the woman she experienced. Erin Taylor was also young once, full of the promise of possibility. Later, in her fifties, after returning to school and becoming a poet, she corresponded with friends and admirers about art and literature. Up to her death, she is sent letters by people who loved her, people she inspired, people who prayed for her from afar. 

Dear Minrose,

I wanted to be free like you but I just can't get past that writer's block.

                                                                                        Lots of love,

Gwin's memoir reads like a photo album completed after the fact. There is no chronological order. The pictures aren't grouped together by theme; each snapshot jars one out of the experience of viewing the one before. Perhaps because this is the only way the author understands her mother-- moments snatched from memory, scattered impressions, and sudden, vivid images. 

Was her mother the one who wrote shattering poems of regret and motherhood, or the woman who once tried to stab her? Was she the woman who wrote long letters to her daughter, or the one who attempted to pluck out her eyes? Was she the woman who copied her daughter's published works, word for word, onto paper, or the woman who refused to open her daughter's letters? 

Some of us are lucky enough to have wonderful, nearly perfect relationships with our mothers. Some of us aren’t. Many of us have complicated, blighted relationships that are beset with miscommunications and regret, with anger and love mixed into all the cracks and riddles. We cobble together what we can and try desperately to make it work. And some of us know that it will never work and we move on, and try to make the best of it.

Gwin’s memoir is a powerful, haunting road down the life of a woman beseiged with mental illness and the daughter who suffered the consequences.  

Minrose Gwin is a writer, scholar, and educator. Her most recent books are a novel, The Queen of Palmyra (Harper Collins/Harper Perennial) and a memoir, Wishing for Snow (HarperCollins/Harper Perennial). She lives in Chapel Hill, NC, and teaches literature and creative writing at the University of North Carolina and fiction and creative nonfiction workshops at the University of New Mexico Taos Writers Conference.