three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
16-May-June-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-LostMotherFor Henry Talcott and his children, 12-year-old Thomas and feisty 8-year-old Margaret, a dank tent in the Vermont countryside is "home." It’s the Great Depression, Henry has lost his farm, and his wife, Irene, has "just up and left," shattering their family unit. As Henry roves the area looking for work slaughtering farm animals, the children wait expectantly for their mother to return. When she doesn’t, and their father fails to provide for them, they experience one difficult situation after another. Will they ever see their "lost" mother again?
Viking. 274 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0670033898

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"[Morris] has matured; her prose has a lighter, surer touch that will attract not only her fans but also those who may have found her earlier work repetitive and heavy-handed. … Much of the story is told from Thomas’s point of view, and Morris handles it brilliantly." Roberta Silman

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Morris is especially skilled at expressing a child’s thoughts, mirroring the confusion that accompanies their dogged efforts to fathom adult behavior, and their poignant attempts to please even the elders who mistreat them. … The Lost Mother blends good fiction with real history, capturing the desolation of rural poverty in Depression-era America, when the social-services safety net was little more than interfering neighbors and orphanages modeled on prisons." Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Morris has been compared to Steinbeck, and aptly so, but there is a fair dose of Dickens here too, especially in her depiction of these children and their plight, which is sometimes witty, sometimes harrowing, but never condescending or romanticized." Richard Grant

Chicago Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]he tragedy feels near and absolute, one wants to turn away, but can’t. … [O]ne understands that the desperation here is to be extrapolated beyond these pages—to real families enduring the indignities of poverty, to any family that has suffered the excruciations of utter, unexplained abandonment." Beth Kephart

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"What saves The Lost Mother is Morris’s adroit characterization. … And because of the characters’ complexity, seemingly trifling events become nuanced and portentous." Regina Marler

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Predictably, both children shoulder guilt for the abandonment, believing that it was their bad behavior that provoked their mother’s departure. … Yet, while Tom and Margaret are fully drawn and credible persons, some of the novel’s other characters seem to be merely soap-opera villains."
Katherine Bailey

Rocky Mountain News 2 of 5 Stars
"… a melodramatic disappointment. … [T]he novel is riddled with superficial plot devices that undercut its more profound inclinations." Geoffrey Bateman

Critical Summary

Many critics liken Morris to John Steinbeck for her realistic portraits of families—and the troubles that tie them together or rend them apart. Vanished, Songs in Ordinary Time, and A Hole in the Universe ( 3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2004) delve deeply into the human condition. By narrating Lost Mother from 12-year-old Thomas’s perspective, Morris captures the children’s vulnerability, their sense of displacement, and the terrifying events that threaten their security. The emotional intensity of their Depression-era plight feels immediate. A few critics note that while Morris’s prose seems lighter here, she still draws overly sentimental characters and presses a "heavy foot on the drama pedal" (Seattle Times). An unpredictable ending pleased some critics and annoyed others.