Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
This novel from the award-winning Ellmann (Sweet Desserts) is a long, free-association, run-on sentence coming from the overactive brain of a mother of four, happily married to an engineering professor. A former college teacher herself, now a professional baker in Newcomerstown, OH, she is also a survivor of open-heart surgery and cancer. Her many obsessions include but are hardly limited to her children, especially her hostile teenage daughter; her mother (from Newburyport), who died young; pies and cinnamon rolls; injustices large and small; old movies; Donald Trump; Marie Kondo; gun violence; industrial pollution; and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Random words such as hydrangea, Djibouti, Giant Viper's Bugloss, and ducks pop up like tics in her stream of consciousness. The story that emerges from these riffs and ruminations is interrupted only by a tale about a mountain lion, which seems to have nothing to do with the main event until the two ingeniously merge. VERDICT Is it worth the considerable time and effort required to get through 728 densely packed pages to journey into the mind of this funny and insanely loveable worrywart? Yes! It's a jaw-dropping miracle.--Barbara Love, formerly with Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
Publishers Weekly Review
This shaggy stream-of-consciousness monologue from Ellmann (Sweet Desserts) confronts the currents of contemporary America. On the surface it's a story of domestic life, as the unnamed female narrator puts it: "my life's all shopping, chopping, slicing, splicing, spilling." Her husband, Leo, is a civil engineer; they have "four greedy, grouchy, unmanageable kids"; she bakes and sells pies; and nothing more eventful happens than when she gets a flat tire while making a pie delivery. Yet plot is secondary to this book's true subject: the narrator's consciousness. Written in rambling hundred-page sentences, whose clauses each begin with "the fact that...," readers are privy to intimate facts ("the fact that I don't think I really started to live until Leo loved me"), mundane facts ("the fact that 'fridge' has a D in it, but 'refrigerator' doesn't"), facts thought of in the shower ("the fact that every murderer must have a barber"), and flights of associative thinking ("Jake's baby potty, Howard Hughes's milk bottles of pee, opioid crisis, red tide"). Interspersed throughout is the story of a lion mother, separated from her cubs and ceaselessly searching for them. This jumble of cascading thoughts provides a remarkable portrait of a woman in contemporary America contemplating her own life and society's storm clouds, such as the Flint water crisis, gun violence, and the Trump presidency. The narrator is a fiercely protective mother trying to raise her children the only way she knows how, in a rapidly changing and hostile environment. Ellmann's work is challenging but undoubtedly brilliant. (Sept.)
Ellmann tells a tale of two mothers. One is a magnificent mountain lion whose brief, increasingly dramatic appearances are rendered in lyrical sentences and paragraphs that surface intermittently like stepping-stones within a deluge of consciousness conveying the tumbling thoughts of a forty-something human mother of four in Ohio. Her Niagara of memories, worries, observations, and self-criticisms surge across the novel's many pages in one audaciously long sentence, achieving an incantatory cadence based on the refrain the fact that ( the fact that I seem to fall in love during family crises, first Chuck, then Leo, the fact that Frank doesn't count, the fact that I tried to love him ). Ellmann's smart, hilarious, high-strung narrator a former history teacher, a caterer specializing in pies, and a cancer survivor ruminates over food, family, extinction, the Native American genocide, nuclear waste, movies, Laura Ingalls Wilder, school shootings, racism, Trump, plastic-filled oceans, and polluted rivers. She adores her engineer husband and mourns for her mother, to whom the title obliquely refers. As the mountain lion's natural idyll is destroyed, forcing her on a desperate odyssey, her human counterpoint and her children also come under siege. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Ellmann's mesmerizing, witty, maximalist (think David Foster Wallace, William T. Vollmann), and maddening performance is a bravura and caring inquiry into Earth's glory, human creativity and catastrophic recklessness, and the transcendence of love.--Donna Seaman Copyright 2010 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
Postmodern romp by expat novelist Ellmann (Tom the Obscure, 2014, etc.).The lioness whose tale opens and punctuates Ellmann's Ulysses-sized saga is resolutely fierce in protecting her litter of cubs, who, like her, are "too brave to despair." Not so the humans who populate Ellmann's pages, residents of a Trump-era Ohio in which there is no ground solid enough to walk on, metaphorically speaking. The narrator, a materfamilias whose voice burbles in a flooded stream of consciousness, seeks solidity: Her operative phrase, found time and again on each period-scant page, is "the fact that": "the fact that we're in for a wineless old age, oi veh, OJ, the fact that Leo has to go to Philly tomorrow and I'm not so good on my own." That may be, but much as Leo, her partner amid life's uncertainties, cares for her, she's forced to contend with difficult, distant children and everyday travails ("the fact that Trump wants to take cover away from 630,000 Ohioans who took up Obamacare last year, and if he gets away with it, some of those poor souls are possibly going to die, the fact that I'm glad we're not on Obamacare"). All this memory and reflection and agonizing comes in an onrushing flow of language that slips oftendeliberately, it seems, but too obviouslyinto games of throwaway word association: "Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dustin Hoffman, The Tales of Hoffman." One wonders why Abbie Hoffman is missing from the picture, but it's no surprise that a worried note that the Amazon is polluted should be immediately followed by a reference to Jeff Bezos. There are lovely bits of poetry and, well, fact scattered throughout these pages ("the fact that recipes change over time through forgetting stuff," "the fact that you don't want to become a bitter old woman, it's plenty bad enough just being old"), but it's awfully hard work getting at them, and for too little payoff.Literary experimentation that, while surely innovative, could have made its point in a quarter the space. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.