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Bentley, "Sins of the Mothers" (reviewed by Marilyn Brown) Options · View
Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 9:33:37 PM

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Title: Sins of the Mothers
Author: Elizabeth Petty Bentley
Publisher: Parables
Genre: Novel
Year Published: 2013
Number of Pages: Kindle approximately 300
Price: $2.99

Reviewed by Marilyn Brown for the Association for Mormon Letters

Elizabeth Petty Bentley's “Sins of the Mothers” reads like the ultimate psychological scalpel. Bentley is a genius at hitting the nerve of a present-day difficult LDS mother-daughter relationship.

While I watched the moral fiber of our nation break down in the "free love" motion picture trash of the sixties through eighties, I said to myself (sometimes out loud) "Ha! What kinds of family difficulties will result from this garbage?" Bentley answers that question with frightening skill.

The book opens with a shocker from the daughter: "I never made any secret about my goal in life. It was to break my mother's heart."

The mother, Joyce, who had this daughter from an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, goes through the typical marriage-divorce syndromes of today's "modern" woman (you do have to give her credit for not aborting), but by the time she finally settles down with someone she can tolerate, (or learns it's *always* a labor), the life of her daughter is totally scrambled.

The daughter Tamar (she names herself to mirror the sister of Absolom) always wishes (often vocally) that her mother had given her away to kind, stable adoptive parents. In order to hurt her mother as much as possible (her goal). the twenty-eight-year-old subjects herself to in-vitro fertilization and becomes pregnant. And she plans to use her mother's yearning for a grandchild to hurt her by giving the baby up for adoption (an ingenious circumstance for revealing the family mess we've made with immorality!). She "dates," stays up all night, and "plays" her mother's worry to the hilt. Such vengeance! Pernicious, unless we remember that hate and love are kindred, that it is "neutral" that destroys us. Well, there's nothing *neutral* here.

The motivations, the analyses of the repartees are so right on, the reader cannot help but wonder if the author has actually experienced all of this herself. I thought, "This has got to be true. No one could make this up." Or is this just a product of Elizabeth's skill? “Realism” is a literary genre not popular with LDS people. But there is always the possibility that some mother and her daughter going through the same thing might recognize themselves and take a step back from their outrageous behavior.

Although there may be relationships like this in LDS families who claim they love their membership in the Church, I was irritated that I had to stay in this quarrel with these bitter people so long. The destructive anger might have been eased if more humility had happened sooner, especially after the astute counseling the bishop gave (some of the best scenes). Sometimes it seemed "Church" was just a "badge" to be worn. Sometimes I felt the daughter was trying, but it was very clear how the mother had killed the spirit of her child (there are several "twists and "turns" for the reader to discover). I was appalled that the mother could not check the awful things that came out of her mouth, even until the story finally wrapped up in a tenuously positive way.

In the deadly melee of the situation, I found some profound truths and applauded them. "No matter what you do, kids will blame you for messing up their lives" was one of them. It was also heartbreaking that the mother "couldn't exactly point to her own life as an example." The daughter conceded that her mother was "terrified I'd turn out to be just what she thought of her worst, most stupid self." I did enjoy some poignant conversations about true love, and when Tamar went through the illness of her pregnancy, she blesses the astonishing organization of the Church: "I  was surprised by how reassured I felt at the prospect of people from my enormous Church family calling me every day, pulling me out of my isolation."

Elizabeth does need a good editor. She misses words, connections, punctuation ... all items that would make it easier for the reader. But she is a brilliant writer. My hope for this book is that some wayward daughter can get her bitter mom to read it. They both may benefit in the same way that a bat to the head of a donkey wakes him up.
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