Mothers and daughters and drugs

the book:

Daughter's Keeper by Ayelet Waldman

published 2003

Olivia … felt a surprising, overwhelming urge to be with her mother. She wanted once again to be five years old, sitting at the soda fountain, spinning on her stool and drinking a milk shake. As a little girl, Olivia had felt proud of Elaine, glad to belong to the woman whom so many people trusted with their secrets, with their health, with their very lives. She would watch her mother behind the counter, looking so serious in her white coat, dispensing pills and reassuring pats on the hand. When the two of them watched It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas, they clucked their tongues reprovingly at the drunken pharmacist who killed the child in the world in which George Bailey had never been born. They both knew that Elaine would never ever have made such a mistake...

Elaine leaned on the worn wooden counter, one hand stuffed into the pocket of her white coat, the other holding a medicine bottle. She nodded and smiled, doing her best not to let her mind wander... It was hard, at the end of a long day of dispensing medications and advice, of pretending interest and concern in the minutiae of her customers’ lives, to keep her mask of polite attentiveness from slipping.

observations: Ayelet Waldman’s book combines a look at a fraught mother-daughter relationship with a compelling indictment of the way the US legal system tries to deal with drugs. It is very readable, melodramatic yet convincing, but it does feel as though someone should have given it another edit, as it doesn’t run smoothly. This may be a feature of the Kindle version, but there isn’t even a blank line between sections, the whole thing is just one long run-on, which doesn’t help when the narrative and POV jump around a lot.

AW is famous for saying that she loves her husband more than her children – perhaps that is why she is so good on the mother and daughter in this book: they are honest and flawed characters, not always nice, their dialogue wincingly true-to-life, their failures in the relationship infuriating and real.

No discussion of Ayelet Waldman is complete without mentioning that the husband she loves so much is Michael Chabon, one of America’s finest writers. Some amazon reviews get cross about perceived nepotism, and how successful she would have been if she had no connections. But there are certainly a lot worse books and writers out there getting published.

Links up with: Michael Chabon has featured
here on the blog. Mothers and their varied relations with their children are all over the place – here (a stepmother), here and here.

The picture is from the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest, and can be found on


  1. Interesting about the perceived nepotism you mentioned (in reviews) and I can see where that would come from, but once someone gets published, would they continue to be published just based on their connections? And most people who would buy the books would not even know? who knows?

    I said in an earlier post that I would read some Waldman, and I want to, but not sure now is the time. I am going to Alabama to visit family at the end of April, and am very stressed about that and I feel like it is affecting my enjoyment of books. Not sure what to read when I am like that.

    1. I agree with you Tracy, I was just interested in the fact that some people believed that about her - I think connections might get someone published, but only if it was thought that the connections would make people buy the book (say, someone related to the President). But I can't think anyone would buy Ayelet Waldman just because of her husband.

      I gathered that your upcoming trip is stressful - I hope you survive it well, and maybe it'll be better than you're expecting...

    2. It has to be better than I expect it to be... and I thank you for your kind words.


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