The XX Factor

Book of the Week: “If You Knew Suzy”

Yesterday, XX Factor contributors shared their realizations about their mothers’ identities outside the domestic sphere in honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday. In the aftermath of her mother’s death from cancer in her early 60s, Wall Street Journal reporter Katherine Rosman did something similar: She decided to investigate the threads of her mother’s life that had nothing to do with her role as mom. The result is the sweet and unvarnished portrait of Rosman’s mother that is If You Knew Suzy .

From the beginning of the memoir, you know that Rosman isn’t going to make this memoir a saccharine affair. She tells the reader up front that mother-daughter relationships are complicated, and does not shy from revealing her mother’s less-than-stellar qualities. Suzy was materialistic (There is an entire chapter devoted to Suzy’s eBay obsession), and she could be manipulative in the stereotypical mom way. Rosman tells a funny, familiar anecdote about how even when Suzy was almost dead from cancer, she still tells her daughter, “It’d be very healing for me if you had a baby.” There are also amusing, ambivalent passages about Suzy’s love of anything new age, which brought her comfort and drove her daughter batty.

None of this is to say that If You Knew Suzy is an unkind portrait of a mother-the image of Suzy Rosin that emerges is ultimately one of a truly caring, large-hearted person who mothered friends and protégés alike. Suzy was a Pilates obsessive, and she taught and truly mentored countless future Pilates instructors, teaching them far more than just exercises. There were Suzy’s life-long friends from suburban Detroit, and her later-in-life friends from Tucson, all of whom adored the spunky-yet-demure woman. Though Rosman questions her mother’s shopping obsession, whenever she needs to feel “powerful and sophisticated” she wears something from the “Dead Mother Collection,” which makes her feel like she’s got “Suzy Rosin juju pumping through my veins.”

No one can ever know who their mother really is outside of the mother-child relationship-the history is too strong to allow for any objectivity. But they can learn to accept what they learn about their mother as a whole person, and Katherine Rosman does this with grace and humor.