"Souvenir" by Jayne Ann Phillips

05Feb05

For some reason this story made me sad. Inexplicably, deeply sad, to quote an awesome movie. I think it made me sad because of Kate’s struggle with her personal beliefs and her desire to make her mother happy and “settle down into normal American womanhood.” I realize that I’m not that old and haven’t quite hit those years in my life when I’m supposed to settle into “normal American womanhood” but I’m not sure that settling will ever come. The kids issue is my greatest concern. As an only child, if I don’t spawn then my mother and father will never have any grandchildren and I stop the genetic line from continuing. For some reason, that fact feels like a giant responsibility. Especially since I don’t see myself having children. Or being a parent for that matter.

Squicky feelings about pregnancy and breastfeeding aside, I just don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling at the prospect of being a parent. Kids make me uncomfortable. I don’t know what to do or to say to them. And the risk factors involved are a bit overwhelming. What if I have a really rotten kid who turns out to be some psycho who forms a cult that eats raw animal flesh and watches The Swan and they are driven to the point of madness that they start slaughtering women whose figures don’t resemble Barbie’s? Or what if I turn out to be a rotten parent and scar some poor, unsuspecting person for the rest of her life so that she has to listen constantly to Captain & Tennille albums to function normally? (My overreactions to the possibility are getting worse as I get older.)

But enough about my freakish tendencies. I was underwhelmed by the story. The characters felt underdeveloped to me as did the central conflict, which was rather clichéed already. The mother is really the heart of the story, but her characterization seemed a little….flimsy. The story details the different relationships that Kate and Robert have with their mother. After the death of their father, Kate has provided more of an emotional support for her mother, sending her valentines every year. Robert, on the other hand, has assumed the stereotypical role of “the man of the family” and has taken charge of finances and medical care and the like. Both seek their mother’s approval of their life choices. The reason I feel the mother deserved more character development is because the conclusion of the story seems to stress children’s need for the steadfastness of their parents. As Kate struggles with telling her mother about her poor condition, her mother actually offers the comfort and tells her daughter, “‘I know all about it,’ her mother said, ‘I know what you haven’t told me.’”

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