The Evolving Dynamics of Family: The Other Mother

The territory that explorations of motherhood and family has taken is expansive. Recent books have swirled the waters of the challenges in all its forms. My last books touched on a future that had skewed standards of what a ‘good mother’ should be. The book on tap for today, looks at who can be a mother, the different configurations of family, and how the actions of family members may be well-intentioned but destructive.

This is a multigenerational tale of a mixed-race family that has many complications. Mixed race is only the beginning. Add into that a gay couple who has a baby via sperm donor in the time when AIDS was at its peak. The child, now college age, has many questions about his father and it is with this quest that the book unfolds

Publisher: Counterpoint May 2022

Jenry Castillo is a piano prodigy. He has grown up in a Cuban immigrant community with his devoted, circumspect mother, Marisa, and his grandparents Victor and Inez Castillo in Miami. His mother has provided scant details about his father or of the time she spent with him. Jenry knows only that he was a celebrated black ballet dancer who died when he was two. Desperate to learn about him and more about his mother’s younger years, he chooses the school where his parents met, rather than a prestigious music school.

Arriving at Brown, he seeks out his grandfather, Winston, an esteemed history professor on campus who sends Jenry to meet his daughter, Juliet. She, too, is a gifted pianist but has stopped playing. From the onset, we realize that the true story of Jenry’s family history is far more complicated than he ever imagined.

Unexpected turns take us into many thematic arenas — longing, loss, questions about who and what make a family, damage from unintended actions cloaked in love— and prejudice.

Marisa and Juliet are at the heart of the story. They love each other and decide to have a baby together. All the lies, betrayals and heartbreak stem from there. It is Juliet who is the other mother. A woman who might have had a host of personal demons but loved that baby, Jenry as any mother would until.. well, I don’t want to ruin the plot.

Rachel Harper, author

Rachel Harper is a beautiful writer. She has the ability to work her way through the confused motivations that ultimately wound us. Woven throughout the book are the complicated emotions that honestly depict the characters’ rawness. The honesty resonates. We feel all the complications

It wasn’t jealousy, but she did wonder how a woman she’d always known to be selfish in the matter of all artists, suddenly possessed a level of atunement to another person that she hadn’t seemed capable of before, and certainly not with Marisa. That was what really hurt: not that she gave it to Jenry but she never gave it to Maria.

Jenry was bonded to both women but when he got fussy, he wanted Juliet. He preferred the way she bounced him in a sling… liked how delicately she drummed his back to dislodge a stubborn burp. Marisa wanted Juliet to love her son— but she didn’t know it could rival her own connection, or that it had the power to eclipse her.

The book is written in seven parts that focus on each of the characters with the last leading up to the resolution. They are not first person narratives but give the reader well wrought characterizations of who these people are.

The opening with Jenry is slow and extraneous to the drama that unfolds later not long after in Part 1. Don’t let it stop you.

Although beautifully written and interesting, I didn’t think that all were germain to the story. For example, while compelling to read, the story of the Jasper, the dancer-father, was interesting but not necessary. The only parts that really mattered to the story was his relationship to his sister and father, which was dealt with in their sections. Also, while Victor (Marisa’s father) was important to the trajectory of Jenry’s life, his emigration from Cuba was not. He had a critical part to play in the drama but so did the mother, Inez, who was more of a stick figure, and present day Marisa.

Juliet, the other mother, was a fully imagined character. The jewel of the story. Despite her darkness and selfish, confused behavior that drives the story arc, the reader understands her motivation, lack of control, and roots for her.

There have been a plethora of novels about what constitutes family but the lens of this one gives us insight into how to meld the family we are born into with the one we make for ourselves.

Until next time…

Available through this website, Amazon, IngramSparks and your local bookseller

The story of us—how we jump into the deep end

before learning to swim and then go about saving ourselves

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