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In the front matter of Frozen (Carma Publishing) is a list of the author’s previous books. The title of one of them is Matricide. So that was a clue.
Carla Tomaso has mommy issues, and she makes no secret of it. The premise of Frozen is a diabolical plot hatched by a bad mommy: Helen dies, but instead of leaving her daughter Elizabeth to years of therapy and the possibility of closure, she has arranged to be cryogenically frozen, age-regressed to middle school age, reanimated, and returned to her astonished daughter as her ward.
Now, any self-respecting person with mommy issues isn’t going to put up with that for a minute. Unless. Wait. Uh oh. Mommy is rich, and daughter won’t inherit any of Mommy’s money unless she cooperates with Mommy’s plan. Which has to be the ultimate good news/bad news situation. The Good News: Mommy is dead. The Bad News: Mommy is back and you get to raise her.
But nothing is that simple, and the wrinkle here is that you never get over wanting a good mommy.
On page 1, the author pretty much says it all: “According to the shrink, something only Mom could fix was wrong with me,” and, “I wanted her to die and at the same time I was frantic to get her to love me.”
What follows is a tragic comedy, or possibly a comic tragedy.
Since almost anyone of the right age and sex can give birth, our logical minds tell us that any child may end up with a mediocre parent. It follows logically that the shortcomings of a mediocre parent are not the child’s fault and do not reflect on the child’s worthiness of love. Our logical minds know all that, but somehow our hearts never get the message.
So Elizabeth, contemplating a reunion with the person who has made her life a misery, feels both dread and hope. Can Helen change? Is this a second chance for Elizabeth to gain her mother’s love? Will Elizabeth’s parenting of her newly youthful mother result in the relationship of “tenderness and mutual respect” that Elizabeth longs for?
It isn’t really a spoiler, except to the very naive, to say that Helen doesn’t change. In fact, she’s even worse. She’s more narcissistic, more heedless of consequences, and more manipulative, as she is now the child to Elizabeth’s adult, which changes the power dynamic between them.
The best thing the author doesn’t do is transform Helen into a good mommy. It may have been tempting to go for a “wish fulfillment” story, in which Helen sees the error of her ways and, having experienced love and nurture from her daughter-mother, becomes a loving parent herself, but the author is too wise to go there. Helen knows she hasn’t been a good mother, and she doesn’t really care. Helen is who she is, and she is happy with who she is and therefore has no incentive to change.
It is always a mistake to try to transform another person into the person you want or need them to be, and this fundamental error dooms Elizabeth’s quest to failure. Whatever Elizabeth needed from Helen in the past, Helen didn’t have it to give, and in the present, one wonders if Elizabeth would know what she needs if, by some miracle, she got it.
Elizabeth’s confusion may well be the result of bad parenting, but it’s past time for her to start parenting herself. Despite her best efforts, however, during this second-time-around with her mother, she watches herself fall into the same old patterns, make the same old mistakes, and feel the same old feelings of inadequacy. And yet, by the time the story ends, Elizabeth has changed.
The agents of that change are diverse and subtle. Elizabeth is living an old life in a new configuration, which may be just enough to shake loose the habits of a lifetime. There are no big moments, no stunning revelations, but a series of brief insights and frank truth-tellings that result in an expanding awareness of what love is and what it isn’t.
If you had a bad mommy, or even a mediocre one, you may find a few clues here.
There’s a movement afoot, they tell me, to redefine the traditional family. Sounds like a great idea!
By Carla Tomaso
Paperback, 978061565768, 234 pp.