With little risk of being wrong, I'll say, "Most women have an issue with their mothers." They may not have a big Oprah-show-worthy issue with Mom, maybe not even a priest or therapist-worthy issue, possibly not even a sleepless-night irritation, but somewhere deep in her soul, a woman has some kind of matter about mother that pricks her with questions: What does my mother's womanhood teach me or not teach me, and what does my mother's womanhood say about my womanhood?
Paraphrasing what I said to novelist and blogger Carleen Brice in a Blog Talk Radio interview, I think that even if our mother is ideal in our eyes, we may still have a problem: the fear we'll never be as perfect as we believe her to be or that she seems to believe herself to be.
Brice's first novel, Orange Mint and Honey (One World/Ballantine, 2008, paperback, 324 pp.) is about a mother-daughter relationship, one with a painful history and uncertain future. It's a story of a woman in her twenties growing up after she thought she was grown as she learns to forgive so she can move forward. It's a compelling tale that's gone from book to film. It is now the movie Sins of the Mother, starring singer and actress Jill Scott, and it premieres Sunday night, Feb. 21, at 8:00 p.m. ET and 5:00 p.m. PT on the Lifetime Movie Network.
Scott plays Nona, a recovered alcoholic who's busy being a better mother to her three-year-old daughter than she ever was to her adult daughter, graduate student Shay Dixon (Nicole Beharie). And there's the salt in Shay's wound. She remembers not having a mother, resents raising herself. After sinking into a depression that put completing her graduate work on hold, she returns home. There she discovers that she is jealous of her little sister, Nona's child by a man Shay doesn't know. Shay doesn't have minor mother-daughter issues. She has epic mother-daughter drama.
Brice says she doesn't believe she consciously chose the mother-daughter conflict theme when she wrote Orange Mint and Honey.
(It's possibly) from my upbringing. My parents were teenagers when they got pregnant with me and got married and like a lot of people, I had some issues with my mom even though we were very close and there was a lot of love there ... there were also some issues. So, I think how you choose a subject ... I really suspect that it's the other way around. The subject chose me.
She was nearly 43 when she finished Orange Mint and Honey, and yet, while the book is not about her relationship with her mother, it was this archetypal conflict that surfaced in her work, and Brice thinks she knows why.
(The mother-daughter tie) is your first relationship. So much of growing up is separating from that person, from your mother and individuating yourself. So, I think what a lot of women end up doing is saying in order to be myself these are the parts of where I came from, of my mother, that I'm going to take with me, and then these are the parts that I'm going to be different from.
It becomes sort of struggle, very subconsciously, to try to model yourself based on what came before you but also have your separateness too. It's such a primary force between you and the person who carried you in her womb and gave you life. Then you have to spend the rest of your time trying to be like and different from that person. I think a lot of women spend a lot of effort trying to balance all that.
To find that balance, Shay must overcome her resentment, and Brice says she relates to the need to forgive and overcome negative emotions, not because of what she experienced with her mother as much as what she experienced with her father.
She is a child of divorce who says she held anger toward her father. But after her mother died of breast cancer, Brice made a decision to forgive him and let the only parent she had be the parent in her life. She said her father came to her and her sibling, apologized and asked forgiveness, but she was not willing to grant it for a long time. Finally, however, she did.
You can listen to the full interview here. It includes not only this discussion of mother/daughter ties, but also her advice to writers who want to build a writing platform and discourse about how she developed her characters and her work style.
At Dear Thursday, the blogger plans to watch the Lifetime Movie network film adaption of Brice's work Sunday night, and in preparation, she made a point to listen to/read Orange Mint and Honey before Sunday's premiere. Her verdict is that the book was worth her push to complete it before the movie airs.
The relationship between Shay and her mother is so well-crafted. Their backstory is harrowing and made me want to hug my daughter. And while different, it felt like a gentle and authentic slice of life. I don’t want to say too much, because you must, must, must read this yourself, but if you’ve ever had major issues with a parent, you’re going to get something out of this book. I know I did. (Dear Thursday)
In addition to the review, Dear Thursday also shares writing lessons learned from reading the novel.
Divine at Entertainment Rundown posted a clip of Jill Scott talking to Mo'Nique about music and her performance in Sins of the Mother. I personally like the irony of this. There is Mo'Nique, who's been nominated for an Oscar for portraying the mother in Precious, who has no redeeming qualities, discussing Scott's role as Nona, a mother who was no mother but who recovers enough to be redeemed.
At Brice's personal blog, The Pajama Gardener, she's encouraging fans to send pictures of their Sins of the Mother viewing parties and providing orange mint recipes. She's also posted some of the movie's reviews:
“ ... With great acting all around, including Mimi Rogers as Nona’s sponsor, this adaptation of Carleen Brice’s novel, Orange Mint and Honey, is one dramatic powerhouse of a TV movie. It’d be a sin to miss it!“ — NATIONAL ENQUIRER, Best Bets on TV
"As a reformed alcoholic mother trying to reconnect with her tightly wound, emotionally stunted daughter, Jill Scott (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency) delivers a performance that makes you forget you knew her as a singer first." — ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
“The magnificent Jill Scott shines as a former mess of a mother struggling to make amends to the daughter she abused ... “— TV GUIDE, Hot List
One of the coolest aspects of social media is that sometimes you watch a success story unfold for someone with whom you've connected. Some readers of this post will recognize Brice's name from her blogs The Pajama Gardener and White Readers Meet Black Authors. Others may have seen her on Twitter, @carleenbrice, and may have even communicated with her, commenting on her work or tweeting information. And now we see her, after much hard work in the blogging community, tasting the success of which writers dream. Her mother would be proud.
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