Women’s History Month giveaway: Win a copy of this book!
When Chana Wilson was seven years old, her mother locked herself in the bathroom, put a rifle to her head, and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed and no physical harm was done, but her mother was immediately whisked away to a mental institution. It would be the first of many institutionalizations, and every time Chana’s mother returned from the hospital in a prescription drug-induced haze, it was Chana who would serve as her caretaker.
Beginning in the late 1950s, Riding Fury Home is Chana’s memoir of those years. Her parents’ marriage was already strained by the time her mother first attempted to commit suicide, and the stress of it all proved too much for her father. Unbelievably, he left the family to work in Europe for a year not long after his wife returned from the hospital. Chana’s mother was still severely depressed and on a number of medications that included sleep aids; at the age of seven, it became Chana’s responsibility to watch after her mother, who had a habit of falling asleep with lit cigarettes and who would again attempt to take her life under Chana’s watch.
It wasn’t until Chana was much older that she learned the source of her mother’s depression and the reason for her years in and out of mental institutions (many of which subjected her to electroshock therapy, and from which she would often call her husband and parents begging for them to get her out): her mother was a lesbian, and those “therapies” were focused on curing her of her “affliction.”
Chana’s father returns after his year in Europe, but the marriage eventually breaks and her parents divorce. Even though her mother struggles with mental illness (and eventually an addiction to the drugs being prescribed to her), it is decided that she’s the parent Chana will live with. As such, Chana’s entire childhood and adolescence are shaped around being “the strong one” in the family; no matter what happens inside their household, Chana internalizes the message that she needs to be strong for her mother can’t ask for help.
It isn’t until she goes away to college that she’s able to break away from that traumatic way of life, though her relationship with her mother will remain strong — albeit complicated — until her mother’s death decades later. It’s an exciting time, politically: women’s liberation is gaining ground and Chana and her peers quickly immerse themselves in one of the radical branches of the movement. As she becomes more entrenched in women’s lib, she also encourages her politically conscious mother to look into it as well.
The memoir spans forty years of this very unique mother-daughter relationship, and one of the main things Chana reflects on is all the ways — some obvious, some much more subtly insidious — that homophobia hurt their lives and tore their family apart. The book also offers a fascinating look at how society has changed in the last fifty years, as seen through the microcosm of one family (granted, it’s a middle class white family whose experiences would have undoubtedly been different from those of poorer families and families of color, and many of the things Chana and her mother experienced are still happening to this day in different forms and in different countries). Regardless, it’s an eye-opening and heartbreaking story that’s written with a remarkable amount of introspection.
Riding Fury Home was released in April 2012 by Seal Press.
In honor of Women’s History Month, Seal Press was kind enough to provide two copies of Riding Fury Home for a giveaway! To enter, fill out the form below by March 27, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. CT (US & Canada only). Good luck!