Mothers, Tell Your Daughters

2 of 16
Mothers, Tell Your Daughters
272 pages; W. W. Norton & Company
The working-class women of rural Michigan find their voices in Bonnie Jo Campbell's third volume of short stories, Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. While unflinching, Campbell avoids the morbid fascination so common in sagas where sexual abuse is a theme (looking at you, Game of Thrones) and roots us in the clear-eyed if weary perspectives of her female characters. The title story is narrated by a farmer rendered mute by a stroke, but whose internal monologue crackles with wit and agency. "None of my busted ribs left scars. Neither did my rape," she tries to tell her daughter. "No scars from bringing six children into the world, and if there was great pain in giving birth, I don't remember it, and you can tell people that." 

She is not alone in her resilience. At the bleeding heart of each of these 16 stories is the question of how to be a strong woman. In the cathartic "A Multitude of Sins," a wife follows decades of acquiescence with delicious months of spousal revenge. Several characters express strength in love both ferocious and blind, while others leave home without looking back, find men or abortion clinics, or admit they are still children after all and return to their mothers. What it comes down to, in Campbell's world and ours, is that to be female is to fight all kinds of strength, and then rise the next morning and resume the unglamorous, necessary work of survival. 
— Natalie Beach