Praise of Motherhood by Phil Jourdan, is not, in fact, a book which praises motherhood so much as it praises his mother, a woman at
once intimately human and ultimately iconic. It is a searingly honest, intensely personal memoir with a lazer-like focus on the relationship between an emotionally unstable child and the mother who loved him.
“To put it simply: I loved my mother because she was a terrible beauty, because she was my Mommy, because she was Love manifest. It was a religious, feverish thing, irreducible to the jargon of the expert therapist…Everyone, even in his profoundest hatred, loves his mother.”
Jourdan speaks of hearing the news of his mother’s illness and later her death, of the relationship they shared and her unending patience and love while raising him. He talks of his life in boarding school and multiple admissions to the hospital due to mental breakdowns. Throughout, the point of view is unashamedly first person and the reader can never be sure how much of what Jourdan tells us is factually correct; all events are filtered thru the speaker’s own mind, which he admits freely is an unbalanced one in many ways. And yet, even with this possibility in mind, there is no question of subterfuge or evasion. Jourdan tells the truth as he knows it, which is all any of us can do.
Though it sometimes appears to be told from the fringes of sanity, Praise of Motherhood somehow manages to be both true and brilliantly evocative. Jourdan explores emotional avenues that, dark and strange as they may be, are familiar enough that the reader never gets lost.
“Mother was dead but there was still food in her fridge. What do you do with a dead woman’s food? You don’t eat it. That is like eating death itself. I gave it all to the dogs…That was the first night. She’d been dead three hours and already, like the selfish boy I was and am, I’d started removing little pieces of her from her own house.”
Pathways of loss, love, guilt and rage are revealed to us in all their untidy glory and we are led to understand and empathize with Jourdan’s pain in ways that a more balanced approach might not allow.
Despite some rather interesting departures from The Chicago Manual of Style rules, readers who enjoy a unique point of view, or who have recently lost a loved one will find this book almost impossible to put down.