Lisa Glatt’s A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That hit me unexpectedly close to home as I followed the lives of these girls and women–particularly, Rachel Spark and her mother–and was left utterly breathless.

Rachel, a college lecturer, moves back in with her mother, who is dying of breast cancer. And their relationship stands as a symbol for all the other mother/daughter relationships in the book (between Georgia and her mother, between Ella and Georgia, between Rachel and Ella, between Rachel and her friends, between Rachel’s mother and the leeches put on her reconstructed breast, and even, as mentioned tangentially, between Anne Sexton and her daughter). And in the end that is what this book is to me–the story of sacrifice–mother for daughter, daughter for mother.

I couldn’t help but think of my own mother’s struggles with cancer (first with the cancer that took her breast when I was a small child and then with the lung cancer that killed her four years ago) and how the thought of losing her had always been my biggest fear–she was the person I loved the most. It is the same for Rachel who, when she meets her mother’s dying boyfriend for the first time, has this encounter:

“Your mother is the love of my life,” he said to my back.
“Mine too,” I told him.
“She wishes that weren’t so.” His voice was serious.
“It is what it is,” I said, placing the wineglasses on the table.

Everything about this scene hit home for me–the love, the anger, the honesty. And that is where the heart of this book is–in that tenuous relationship that is mother and daughter. The push and the pull. The give and the take. More often than not, Rachel is angry at her mother and that, too, is so real because the anger though on the surface may be about something stupid, underneath is about abandonment–because underneath it all is Rachel’s knowledge that her mother was always ready to leave her:

Before she got sick, my mother was a woman who was always ready to leave me. When she visited my apartment, which was rare, she’d walk the halls with her purse on her arm, itching to go. She’d walk fast, the purse bouncing at her hip, talking and moving at once. It was impossible for her to sit and listen. After illness came, she moved more slowly. She put the purse down.

She’s pissed her mother is dying and leaving her alone. She is angry. She is bereft. But she also has the knowledge that sickness, this illness, is what brought her mother back to her. Allowed them to be mother and child again.

Some people will tell you this book is about single women having sex. I will tell you otherwise. What it is about is love and committment. About being alone and grieving for those who have not yet died. It’s a beautiful and risk-taking book. I hope you will read it. Even though I’m heartbroken over it, I’m ever so glad I did.

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