Two deaths, two mothers, two books: two noted authors write of their mothers’ deaths. The contrast between the authors, as between the mothers, could hardly be sharper.
Patricia Hampl—poet, memoirist, and the florist’s daughter—forever resident in her native St. Paul, Minnesota, tells the story of Mary Catherine Ann Teresa Eleanor Marum Hampl, wife, mother, librarian.
David Rieff—journalist, social critic, world traveler, and son of two intellectuals—tells the story of Susan Sontag, literary star, advocate, provocateur, lesbian, and mother. One author is a believer, the other an atheist. One story is embedded in a community, one in solitary struggle. One death is a part of life, one an affront to life.
The Florist’s Daughter has its beginnings in a familiar Catholic story, the mixed marriage. Her parents’ Czech-Irish union brought with it the ethnic and class stereotypes that...