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Tasha: A Son's Memoir

Tasha: A Son's Memoir

by Brian Morton

Narrated by Sean Patrick Hopkins

Unabridged — 4 hours, 26 minutes

Brian Morton
Tasha: A Son's Memoir

Tasha: A Son's Memoir

by Brian Morton

Narrated by Sean Patrick Hopkins

Unabridged — 4 hours, 26 minutes

Brian Morton

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Overview

In the spirit of Fierce Attachments and The End of Your Life Book Club, acclaimed novelist Brian Morton delivers a “superb” (Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air), darkly funny memoir of his mother's vibrant life and the many ways in which their tight, tumultuous relationship was refashioned in her twilight years.

Tasha Morton is a force of nature: a brilliant educator who's left her mark on generations of students-and also a whirlwind of a mother, intrusive, chaotic, oppressively devoted, and irrepressible.

For decades, her son Brian has kept her at a self-protective distance, but when her health begins to fail, he knows it's time to assume responsibility for her care. Even so, he's not prepared for what awaits him, as her refusal to accept her own fragility leads to a series of epic outbursts and altercations that are sometimes frightening, sometimes wildly comic, and sometimes both.

Clear-eyed, “deeply stirring” (Dani Shapiro, The New York Times Book Review), and brimming with dark humor, Tasha is both a vivid account of an unforgettable woman and a stark look at the impossible task of caring for an elderly parent in a country whose unofficial motto is “you're on your own.”


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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

I found Tasha addictive. I couldn’t even slow down. Why? Its startling details, fearless depictions and the curiosity this sparks: How might Morton “solve” the unsolvable?”... Tasha stands as both a cri de coeur and vibrant testament — the painstaking, brave, generous piecing-together of a wildly difficult puzzle.” —Joan Frank, The Washington Post

“Superb... one thing that sets Tasha far apart from the usual one-sided literary conversation with a deceased parent is Morton's rigorous attempt to see his mother, Tasha, whole — as a person. Another thing that distinguishes Tasha is Morton's elastic style as a writer, by turns droll, emotionally wrenching, and profound. ... [A] powerful memoir... Tasha is such a pleasure to read, oscillating between past and present, horror and hilarity, the big social picture and one son's ongoing attempt to work out some stuff with his mother.” —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air

“Brian Morton, a gifted, compassionate novelist, has, over the course of five elegant novels, explored the moral complexity inherent in storytelling. ... With humility and grace, he tells us that he has failed his mother by not seeing her as a full and complete person, one with great courage, complexity and strength. But it is a gift of mature adulthood — and perhaps the work of writing memoir — to see our parents as people who exist outside of their centrality in our lives... [a] lucid memoir.” —Dani Shapiro, The New York Times

“Morton’s affecting, funny tribute captures the complexities of the mother-son bond, the crazy-making choices of caretaking and the mixed blessings of small-town life.”—People

"One of the truest, most insightful mother-child memoirs I have ever read.” Vivian Gornick, author of Fierce Attachments

"Brian Morton is a tremendous writer’s writer... Tasha is in many ways a tribute to a complicated woman, but also an examination of the dearth of options for ailing, aging people—regardless of cost.” The Observer

"This profoundly moving memoir is both an absolute delight and a punch to the gut: Brian Morton writes without flinching about his often exasperating mother, his own considerable failings, and the impossible demands of balancing safety and independence, love and anger, guilt and grief. I urge you to read this astonishing work: part family comedy, part prayer for the dead, and wholly unforgettable —like Tasha herself." —Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club

“A searing and tender memoir, written with candor, warmth, and heartbreaking grace.” —Betsy Lerner, author of The Bridge Ladies

"Yes, Tasha is an indelibly memorable character, but what makes the book really soar is the combination of her plus the author's truthful self-portrait: the two are locked in a pas de deux, for better or worse, that epitomizes the impossible-to-satisfy love of mother and child." —Phillip Lopate

"Unstinting yet tender... a tour de force... Part gut-punch comedy, part eulogy, this tribute is dazzling” Publishers Weekly *starred review*

Library Journal

02/01/2022

In his latest work, a son's loving and hard reflection on his mother, novelist Morton (Starting Out in the Evening) does his best to piece together the complex woman his mother was—from the progressive elementary school teacher, to the scatterbrained woman he remembered, to a woman in mental decline after the death of her husband. Morton attempts to see his mother as a "whole," outside of the eccentricities he experienced as her child. His memoir takes in his mother's journal entries, which offered a window into her inner life and revealed secrets Morton hadn't been aware of during his youth. At times, he steps out of his narrative briefly to comment on the state of health care and elder care in the United States and to air his frustrations with how these systems affected him and his mother. Still, Morton's writing is conversational and engaging throughout, offering a vivid portrait of a sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-challenging relationship between a mother and son. VERDICT This is a charming and sad memoir, reminding readers of life's inevitabilities, the beauty of the journey, and the lesson to hold on to those close to them with a fierceness.—Amanda Ray

Kirkus Reviews

2022-01-11
A son’s search for his mother.

In 1991, award-winning novelist Morton fictionalized his mother in his first novel, The Dylanist. "Her eccentricities, he admits, “made it hard for me to resist a comic portrayal”—a portrayal that wounded her. Now, after her death, Morton tries to understand how she became the stubborn, overbearing woman who blighted his emotional life. When she was younger, he knew, she had been defiant and determined; at 16, she left home and changed her name from Esther to Tasha, “partly because she liked the sound and partly because it wasn’t the name of anyone she knew.” Tasha became the first copy girl at the Daily Worker, and she also worked for the United Office and Professional Workers of America, where she met the man she would marry. When he dallied in proposing, she took off to a kibbutz for six months. Married at last and with two young children, she returned to school to earn a graduate degree in education, going on to become an innovative teacher and active school board member. Yet after her husband died suddenly in 1984, she started hoarding—filling her house with the “detritus of her despair”—and sank into depression, the depths of which she confessed to her diary. She felt, Morton realized, “as if she loved us more than any of us loved her.” After a stroke and increasing dementia made it impossible for her to care for herself at home, Morton and his sister tried to find support for her only to discover the dearth of resources for the elderly and their vulnerability to abuse. The author’s revised portrayal of Tasha is both comic and tender. He recounts frustrating, absurd conversations and discovers, as well, “a life that was devoted to making a contribution. What I see is the life of a woman who gave of herself as fully as she could.” His affecting memoir reveals a desperate woman railing against indignities and loneliness and a son powerless to assuage her pain.

Melancholy and familial devotion imbue a nuanced, poignant portrait.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940173075918
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 04/12/2022
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
On March 13, 2010, driving at night in a thunderstorm, my mother got stuck on a flooded road near the Hackensack River. Her car stalled out and the electrical system failed, so pressing on the horn yielded no sound. She didn’t have her cell phone with her. The river forced its way inside the car, covering her ankles, moving up to her knees. She was eighty-five years old and in poor health and she knew that if she left the car she’d be dragged down into the water. She was sure she was going to die.

I was living with my family in Westchester. The rain had been crazy all day. In the morning I’d promised my kids that we’d go out to the toy store and the library, but although we wouldn’t have to travel more than half a mile, the storm was so wild that I wasn’t sure about leaving the house at all. Heather was at a conference that weekend, and I had the kids on my own. Finally I told myself it couldn’t be so terrible to drive a few blocks, and I took them to the toy store. Driving there turned out to be an exercise in not letting them see how frightened I was—I could barely make out the road—and after they’d each picked a toy, I decided to skip the library and take them back home.

My niece, who was in high school, was giving a dance recital that night, but the drive took an hour in good conditions and would have been a nightmare during a storm like this. I wrote to my sister, Melinda, with apologies; she told me it was fine, and added that our mother was still planning to attend.

I can’t say I was surprised. My mother was like a child in many ways. She’d never been good at knowing her own limitations or thinking ahead. One of my early memories was of an evening when she took Melinda and me to see our grandparents off at Penn Station after they’d visited us in New Jersey. I was four and my sister was seven. Our grandparents were taking a train back to Pittsburgh. She felt it important to help them find their seats, though they were only in their early sixties and were perfectly capable of doing this themselves, and she felt it important to stay with them, soaking up every minute of togetherness, even after the announcement that anyone without a ticket had to leave the train. She told my sister and me to get off and wait for her on the platform. I don’t know what made her want to postpone leaving until the last possible moment. I don’t think there was any real reason; I think it was just hard for her to leave. That was one of the first things you got to know about my mother, if you knew her at all. It was hard for her to let anybody go.

My sister and I waited outside the train. We heard a second announcement, and then a third, and then we saw the train start to move.

I don’t remember what I was thinking. I don’t remember if my sister said anything. But I do remember that the train began moving and my mother wasn’t with us and I didn’t know what we were going to do.

Finally she emerged in the space between two cars. She looked at us, smiled nervously, looked down at the swiftly moving platform, and jumped.

My mother, it should be mentioned here, was not a graceful woman. She’d never been athletic, and a providential moment of nimbleness was not bestowed upon her now. She leapt from the train in an odd way—the position of her body reminded me of an angel in a cartoon, reclining on a cloud while playing a harp—and landed heavily on the platform, and cried out in pain.

At the distance of sixty years, I can see that she was lucky. The force of the fall was taken by the fleshiest part of her body. She didn’t break any bones. She didn’t hit her head. She didn’t suffer any serious injuries. But for months she bore a frightening bruise, covering most of her thigh and part of her backside. (She showed it to us more than once, even though, for me at least, once was more than enough. She might have thought it was educational for us in some way.)

To my four-year-old mind, this adventure seemed to say two things about her. Her leap and her bruise seemed to mark her as both heroic and unbalanced. I can’t deny that I thought there was something glorious about the sight of her leaping from the train, but neither can I deny that I understood, even then, that there was something off about it too, something that set her apart from other grown-ups, and not in a good way.

All of which is to say that in 2010, when I learned my mother was planning to attend the recital, it didn’t even occur to me to try to talk her out of it. I thought it was foolish, but I also thought it was just her, and I’d learned long ago that when I tried to talk her out of doing something she was intent on, I had no chance.

I did whatever I did with the kids that night. I imagine I made them some nutritionally questionable dinner—chicken fingers for Emmett, mac and cheese for Gabe—and watched a movie with them and waited eagerly for them to fall asleep. After that I’m sure I either wrote or wasted time on the internet. The storm didn’t die down. If you care to look it up, just search for “storm” and “March 13, 2010” and “New Jersey.” I remember that I thought about my mother once or twice, wondering how she’d fared in the miserable weather. I wrote her an email at around midnight, and was surprised when I didn’t hear back—she liked to stay up late, and she was always on her computer—but I have to admit I didn’t think about it very much. I assumed things had turned out fine.

In the morning I checked my email and saw that she’d written to me at two. She told me what had happened—she’d finally been found by the police as they patrolled the flooded streets—and said that it had been the worst night of her life.

A few days later, Melinda visited her and noticed that her balance was off. She took her to her doctor, who sent them to Englewood Hospital to determine whether she’d had a stroke.

I met them at the hospital. My mother had already had a few tests and they were waiting for results. She was sitting in one of those backless gowns, which seem designed to humiliate you and thereby render you willing to do what you’re told. She was normally an irrepressibly chatty person, but now she was sitting on the examining room table with a doleful expression, not saying a word. Occasionally she swung her legs in the air, looking like a disappointed child.

When she did speak, it was hard to tell if she was slurring her words. If you listen carefully to anyone at all and ask yourself whether they’re slurring their words a little, it can be hard to be sure.

I was worrying about many things.

I was worrying about her, of course. I was worrying about how much damage she might have suffered; I was worried about whether she was going to be able to continue living on her own. But I was also worrying about myself. I had successfully kept her at arm’s length for many years, not really doing much for her except having dinner with her from time to time, and this was comfortable for me. Now it seemed that I might have to call on different capacities in myself, and I didn’t want to.

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