Tillie is a grown woman about to give birth. She has just moved to a new city and her husband is away. Needing help, she calls her father, who she has had no contact with in years. Calling him brings back a flood of memories as Tillie relives the year she was eight, the last year with her mother.
Much of the book takes place in the 1970s, as Tillie's story is told. Her father, a straight laced military man working for the Department of Defense seems stern and rigid, while her mother Mara is unable to cope with the daily goings on in life. She spends much of her time asleep in her bedroom, rarely coming out or taking part in her children's lives. Tillie loves her mother and would do anything to protect her. Her father is frustrated by his wife's problems and what he perceives as a lack of effort on her part. No matter what, Tillie blames her father for his lack of understanding and compassion. When Tillie's family moves to D.C., things change a bit. Her mother is gone, and no real explanation is given to Tillie or her brother, Philip.
I was sad for Tillie in many ways. The most obvious one was the fact that Tillie's mother was mostly absent from her childhood, even when she was physically present. Although Tillie blamed her father for many things, I really felt like he was trying his hardest- in the way he knew how- to take care of his children. There is still a stigma that goes along with mental illness today, and thirty years ago people with mental illness didn't go seek treatment as readily as they do now. Tillie's parents tried to take care of their problems without getting anyone else involved, which ultimately didn't end in the best way. Because Tillie's family moved around they were more isolated than if they had the support of friends and extended family. Tillie also felt alone because she was the "new girl" who was trying to fit in at school and make friends.
While this story's ending is sad in some ways, in others it is hopeful. Tillie has grown up and is starting her own family, showing her ability to move on in her own life and establish a relationship. Despite the fact that she had not talked with her father in years, her contact with him when she needed him made me hopeful that perhaps they would establish a relationship again.
Although I was born in the 1970s, I am too young to remember that decade well, identifying more with the 80s. Yet, I loved this setting, depicting a slice of life in America during this decade. I was able to picture what life was like and recall bits and pieces from my own childhood.
This is one time I wish I were still a part of a book club because there are lots of discussion points in this one. Since it is already available in paperback I am sure it will be a popular book club pick. If you've read it, I'd love to talk.