Mother Daughter Me

Mother Daughter Me

4.6 13
by Katie Hafner

View All Available Formats & Editions

The complex, deeply binding relationship between mothers and daughters is brought vividly to life in Katie Hafner’s remarkable memoir, an exploration of the year she and her mother, Helen, spent working through, and triumphing over, a lifetime of unresolved emotions.
Dreaming of a “year in Provence” with her mother, Katie urges

…  See more details below


The complex, deeply binding relationship between mothers and daughters is brought vividly to life in Katie Hafner’s remarkable memoir, an exploration of the year she and her mother, Helen, spent working through, and triumphing over, a lifetime of unresolved emotions.
Dreaming of a “year in Provence” with her mother, Katie urges Helen to move to San Francisco to live with her and Zoë, Katie’s teenage daughter. Katie and Zoë had become a mother-daughter team, strong enough, Katie thought, to absorb the arrival of a seventy-seven-year-old woman set in her ways.
Filled with fairy-tale hope that she and her mother would become friends, and that Helen would grow close to her exceptional granddaughter, Katie embarked on an experiment in intergenerational living that she would soon discover was filled with land mines: memories of her parents’ painful divorce, of her mother’s drinking, of dislocating moves back and forth across the country,  and of Katie’s own widowhood and bumpy recovery. Helen, for her part, was also holding difficult issues at bay.
How these three women from such different generations learn to navigate their challenging, turbulent, and ultimately healing journey together makes for riveting reading. By turns heartbreaking and funny—and always insightful—Katie Hafner’s brave and loving book answers questions about the universal truths of family that are central to the lives of so many.
Praise for Mother Daughter Me
“The most raw, honest and engaging memoir I’ve read in a long time.”—KJ Dell’Antonia, The New York Times
“A brilliant, funny, poignant, and wrenching story of three generations under one roof, unlike anything I have ever read.”—Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
“Weaving past with present, anecdote with analysis, [Katie] Hafner’s riveting account of multigenerational living and mother-daughter frictions, of love and forgiveness, is devoid of self-pity and unafraid of self-blame. . . . [Hafner is] a bright—and appealing—heroine.”—Cathi Hanauer, Elle
“[A] frank and searching account . . . Currents of grief, guilt, longing and forgiveness flow through the compelling narrative.”Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle
“A touching saga that shines . . . We see how years-old unresolved emotions manifest.”Lindsay Deutsch, USA Today
“[Hafner’s] memoir shines a light on nurturing deficits repeated through generations and will lead many readers to relive their own struggles with forgiveness.”—Erica Jong, People

“An unusually graceful story, one that balances honesty and tact . . . Hafner narrates the events so adeptly that they feel enlightening.”Harper’s
“Heartbreakingly honest, yet not without hope and flashes of wry humor.”Kirkus Reviews
“[An] emotionally raw memoir examining the delicate, inevitable shift from dependence to independence and back again.”O: The Oprah Magazine (Ten Titles to Pick Up Now)
“Scrap any romantic ideas about what goes on when a 40-something woman invites her mother to live with her and her teenage daughter for a year. As Hafner hilariously and touchingly tells it, being the center of a family sandwich is, well, complicated.”Parade

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Let's see: When she was ten, her father wrested her from her mother's negligent, alcoholic grip; later, her older sister left the family and ultimately became a foster child; her father died in a plane crash; one of her husbands...well, enough spoilers, for this memoir is filled with surprising and dramatic turns, many for the worse. It's a wonder that Katie Hafner is still in one piece, to say nothing of enough in possession of her faculties and enough perspective to write such a poignant, honest, and complex account of such difficult, too often tragic family matters. On the scale of modern memoirs about familial dysfunction and deprivation, Mother Daughter Me may not quite rank with, for example, Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes or Mary Karr's The Liars' Club, but it's way up there, alongside The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

In 2009, Ms. Hafner bought a house in San Francisco, where she was working as a writer and living with her daughter, Zoe, so as to try to make real a fantasy of hers. She wanted to bring her erratic mother, Helen, seventy-seven, and herself and Zoe together under one roof, after decades of turbulence and collisions that had CERNed away any earlier hope of a nuclear family. Using this "experiment in intergenerational living" as her central narrative, Hafner tries to come to terms with and find the patterns in her disrupted childhood, her brilliant father's and equally brilliant mother's catastrophic marriage and separation, her own rocky romantic history, her sister's estrangement, and more than one sudden and shocking death. And to make sense of the failure and lessons of this "experiment" itself.

As the children of two highly accomplished, self-absorbed scientists, Katie and her sister found themselves uprooted from the Northeast and taken away to Florida to live with their binge-drinking mother, after she obtained a quickie divorce in Juárez, Mexico. She promised the children "oranges," but what they ate, often for dinner, was candy while Helen "began to ricochet between involvements with various men," each of which was followed by "a succession of sodden days." Hafner says of this Florida sojourn, "We became the closest thing I can imagine to urchins." Then Helen yanked her children away again, to California, where she enrolled as a graduate student at UC San Diego and continued her drinking and manizing. Finally, after Helen made a gesture toward suicide with pills, Katie and Sarah were whisked away yet again, to Amherst, where her father was living with his new wife and her three children. And Helen finally lost custody of her kids.

Understand that this is just the beginning of a series of traumatic events that Hafner and her sister suffered through, as children and adults. And that these events, vivid as they are, serve as a backdrop for her efforts to have "a year in Provence" with her mother in the San Francisco house when she is the parent of a daughter herself. But, as Hafner comes to realize, they also serve to explain why her grand cohabitation idea ran into such trouble.

Trouble: At dinner one night:

My mother has said nothing. I wish I could pass [her] some cue cards under the table, prompting her on how to ask questions of her granddaughter?.
My mother finishes her dinner in silence, then gets up from the table and, without a word, goes downstairs.
"Is she mad?" Zoe asks.
I roll my eyes.
"What?" she asks, feigning innocence.
"You speak only to me, then wonder she feels excluded enough to leave the room?"
I'm awakened by a tap on my back.
It's Zoe. She's crying and asks me to come into her room.
I climb into her bed. "Sweetie, what's wrong?"
"Grandma Helen said I suck at cello."
"She said I have good technique but my intonation sucks. She said I should take up the piano."
And there's a lot more — Katie and her mother arguing over money and possession of a Steinway piano, Katie neglecting a promise to Zoe in order to hang out with her new man (of whom her mother obnoxiously disapproves), a restaurant argument over lettuce that devolves into all three generations hating each other. After a while, you begin to realize — as Hafner herself comes close to saying — that she wanted her mother to be with her so she could ultimately be without her. She says, "It's possible that Zoe was tuned into something of which I was unaware: the almost umbilical hold my mother had on me, the emotional energy of unfinished business."

Hafner and the reader come to understand the archaeological layers of difficulties that have led to this disastrous experiment, which turns out not to be a disaster but a blessing after all. Her efforts to find the patterns in her mother's and father's lives — and her own childhood and romantic history and parenthood — and to learn from them and ultimately try not to re-create the darker patterns deserve respect and admiration. The writing is generally strong and straight: "I now see that it's far easier to imagine a future we can invent than to reckon honestly with a painful past." And the narrative is usually engrossing. There are rare lapses into psychobabble — how could there not be? — and sometimes Hafner seems to fall a little short of the goal of full comprehension of her own behavior, especially when she breaks a promise to Zoe. She also mixes a metaphor here and there: "A whorl of emotions?streaks through me"; "it triggers a cascade..."

So how indeed has Hafner been able to emerge from these six or seven personal maelstroms and write about them with overall lucidity? She answers the question herself, when she says of one episode in her childhood:
I was beginning to develop a protective ability to distance myself, which made me much more adaptable to new situations than Sarah was and turned me into a lifelong observer. The ability to stand outside a scene eventually helped me become a journalist.
And a good and honest memoirist, I would add.

Daniel Menaker is the author, most recently, of A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation and of the novel The Treatment, as well as two books of short stories. Menaker is the former Executive Editor-in-Chief of Random House and fiction editor of The New Yorker. His reviews and other writings have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and\ Slate.

Reviewer:: Daniel Menaker

Read More

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.16(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.64(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Advance praise for Mother Daughter Me
“This brilliant, funny, poignant, and wrenching story of three generations under one roof is quite unlike anything I have ever read. I love Hafner’s prose, her humor, the images she conjures, her choices of what to tell and when, the weaving together of family threads to produce this luminous and lasting tapestry. The story lingered with me long after I read the last page.”—Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Mother, Daughter, Me 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Luke90210 More than 1 year ago
Katie Hafner has a very nice writing style. It is easy to read and digest. In her book Mother Daughter Me, she details a year of working with her mother to solve unresolved issues between them. I found the book to be excellent.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A truly remarkable book about family relationships. With three generations of women living under one roof , the author embarks on a quest to overcome once broken mother-daughter relationships. It is very well written and a hard book to put down. I finished it in three days. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A complex look at the relationships between mothers and daughters. This is well written and easy to enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fabulous memoir, written for anyone who has struggled with their relationship with their mother. Am writing a book myself about my relationships with my mother who lives on the east coast while I I be on the west coast. Since her Alzheimer's diagnosis our relationship has shifted in some ways. What was a distant (and yet strangely intimate) relationship has become more real, more honest. Sometimes to the point of raw, sometimes less so. Mother Daughter Me was not easy emotional reading, but it was healing as Katie shares her journey with both her mother and daughter under very difficult circumstances. If you have ever yearned for a better relationship with your mother, no matter what your background, this memoir will ring true as it poignantly shares the ups and downs of a daughter's reconciliation with her mother.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written assessment of the author's relationships, and how they change in light of new discoveries.  I raced through it in a few hours.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
abySB More than 1 year ago
I found the daughter to be less than lovable, but both her mother and grandmother, although as flawed as all of us, had a history and some wisdom with which to deal with their mistakes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did the author mean to make everyone involved in this family seem selfish and self absorbed? Her daughter is portrayed (unwittingly) as a whiney brat.