Ruth Reichl's first memoir, Comfort Me With Apples, introduced us to Mim, her mother. Clearly suffering from some form of mental illness, Mim is a terrifying figure, at once funny and dangerous, who wreaks all kinds of havoc on Ruth's life. Now Mim is back in Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way, a short memoir by Reichl devoted entirely to Mim.
Apparently Mim took to heart the Catherine Aird maxim "If you can't be a good example you'll have to serve as a horrible warning." Her disappointments (career, looks, marriage) are legion, and she has left for Ruth, after her death, a box of letters and mementos that help Ruth process all of them. Ruth is grateful to Mim for giving her permission and incentive to have a career, and more importantly, to choose her own road through life rather than living the life dictated by her parents, as Mim had to do. Reichl writes movingly both of Mim's troubles and of her own successes.
What I can't figure out is why this is a book. It's very short, only 112 pages of largish type on small pages. It's kind of a miniature book, a guest room book, or maybe a gift book? But who would buy this for their mother? "Here mom, you were as nutty as Mim, so thanks a lot."
It would have made a perfectly good article in The Atlantic or The New Yorker, where you could read it for $5 and get lots of other good articles at the same time. I liked it, but I'm glad I didn't pay the publisher's list price of $19.95 (or $25 in Canada!).