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Spanning the breadth of her parents’ tumultuous relationship and ending with the aftermath of her mother’s death, author, therapist, and drum-beater Chana Wilson’s memoir, Riding Fury Home (Seal Press), relates her own—and her mother, Gloria’s—intertwined stories of sexism, homophobia, and liberation.
Wilson first relates her childhood, characterized by neglect, uncertainty, and role-reversal as a result of Gloria’s multiple suicide attempts and institutionalizations. Later Wilson comes out as a lesbian; through her coming out she discovers that her mother is also a lesbian, “treated” through Wilson’s childhood with electroshock therapy, forced medication, and imprisonment.
The story follows Wilson’s and Gloria’s frequently overlapping journeys through the 70s lesbian and feminist scenes as they struggle to liberate, relate, and love themselves, each other, and their lesbian sisters and partners. This story carries through Gloria’s struggle with cancer and eventual death, and ends with a somewhat uncomfortable reconciliation with her father.
Not a stranger myself to crazy mothers, shadowed childhoods, and the ambivalence of forgiveness, I brought to the book much wish and want to find pieces of my own story reflected. Not too many people grow up with mothers that cycle through nuthouses like revolving glass doors, reminding us in their passing reflection how murky the line is between life and living death. I read Riding Fury Home hoping to see that murk turned to art.
Wilson is thorough in her sharing, revealing the fears and flaws not just of her mother but of herself and her father as well. In my eagerness to cut to the quick of the book, however, the telling was initially too slow. However slow in her start, Wilson spends the early parts of the book laying foundation and building momentum for an exquisitely deep and transformative ending. She never reveals more than she herself knew when she experienced what she relates, thus carrying the reader through the uncertainties and pockets of shadow as she herself lived them. The book is raw, less polished and truer to life. She doesn’t yield to the temptation to make the story simpler or more palatable. Her characters are full, heroic and ridiculous, flawed and human. She does not spare her own character in this treatment, and there are no simplistic equations of good and evil.
I finished the book feeling enlarged for what I’d read, inspired and hopeful. Riding Fury Home is a beautiful and very human story of vast themes: birth, death, desire, hope, oppression overcome. Wilson tells her stories in a powerful way that brings the universal home.
Riding Fury Home
By Chana Wilson
Paperback, 9781580054324, 384 pp.