A review of Motherline by Lisa Rosen

Reviewed by Sara Hodon

by Lisa Rosen
Morgan and Dawson Publishing
Paperback: 256 pages, September 1, 2013, ISBN-13: 978-0989370103

Is there any relationship as simple or as complicated as the one between mother and daughter?  Author Lisa Rosen examines this delicate connection from many different angles in her debut novel, Motherline.

Maggie is about to deliver her first child. She’s actually a few days past her due date, which is giving her a lot of time to think and get more anxious about the life-changing event she and her husband Sam are about to experience. At the same time, she finds herself remembering a few events from her childhood and adolescence—happy events, mostly, but a few painful memories come back to her, too. Ever since her younger brother’s death many years earlier, Maggie and her mother have had a strained relationship which neither woman has made great efforts to improve.

Readers expecting an emotional roller coaster of a plot focusing on family drama may be disappointed. There are quite a few flashbacks to Maggie’s younger days that give her  relationship as an adult with her mother some context, but the majority of the novel focuses on Maggie’s labor and delivery. Never having been through the experience myself, I won’t question the accuracy of Rosen’s descriptions. Let’s just say it might make you re-think childbirth, and I’m not certain that women who have been through it will relish reading about it in such agonizing (literally) detail and reliving it all over again. I wanted to know more about the tension between Maggie and her mother, considering it was weighing so heavily on Maggie’s mind throughout the book’s earlier chapters.

I also wanted to meet Maggie’s mother Katharine earlier in the book. Until she arrives at the hospital, all we see of her is what is revealed in Maggie’s flashbacks. Once we do meet her, it’s almost anti-climactic—I got the sense that Maggie was the one to push her mother away, not vice versa as Rosen had implied early in the story.

The other key relationship is the one Maggie has with her grandmother, Yaya. Although she is clearly adored by her granddaughter and is referenced a number of times (in the present day scenes, Maggie’s biggest concern about Yaya is that she missed their lunch date because she went into labor. Once she’s there, she starts fretting about the best way to get Yaya to the hospital), she appears in very few scenes. Maggie worries that she won’t be able to handle motherhood without the strength and support of her grandmother. The key scene with Yaya is when Maggie calls her to explain why she didn’t show up for lunch, and Yaya sounds oddly confused—a clear indication that the tables have turned. She’s not the tower of strength she once was for her family, and more than ever, her daughter and grandchildren will need to stand on their own.

As I read this, I felt very unfulfilled. Maggie is about to become a mother, and this process is the primary focus of the novel. Her complicated and tense relationship with her own mother, which directly parallels the close and comfortable relationship she has with Yaya, are clearly weighing on her mind, yet I felt Rosen could have delved a little deeper into these bonds. We know the most about Maggie, but Katharine isn’t given much of an opportunity to give voice to her thoughts or feelings, particularly as they relate to her grief over losing her son and how it changed the dynamics of her family. She references her son’s death and her reaction to it almost in passing at the end of the novel. For as much as Maggie analyzes and dwells on their relationship, it seemed like Katharine should have shared much more. Issues between mothers and daughters rarely have neat and tidy endings, but it seemed as if Maggie was looking for a bit more reassurance from her mother than she received.

Motherline is a bit like a coming-of-age story—Maggie is facing first-time motherhood, saying goodbye to merely being a daughter and granddaughter and now having to face responsibility for another human being, thus continuing the “motherline” of generations of women that had gone before her, while Katharine is still grieving the son that she lost but trying to move forward into her new role as grandmother (and eventual family matriarch) in her own way. Rosen went to great lengths to capture the birthing process accurately, but as a result I felt that other parts of the book were lacking. I would have loved to learn more about the dynamics of Maggie and Sam’s relationship, or, since this book explored the mother/daughter bond, perhaps even more scenes with Yaya to balance the tension between Maggie and Katharine. I also think it would have been interesting to see more of Maggie as a teenager (already an awkward and tense time) and how her brother Jamie’s death impacted the family in later years.

Clearly Maggie’s family splintered after her brother’s death, but it seemed as though Maggie was still the one holding the grudge into adulthood. (Her younger sister seems like the peacemaker and defends Katharine in a few scenes; Maggie’s parents divorced some time after their son passed away but Rosen doesn’t offer many details about this, either.) Although I appreciated Rosen’s descriptions, I felt that, overall, I wanted to know more about these characters.


About the reviewer: Sara Hodon is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in over two dozen print and online publications.