My Brother's Mother
by Bruce Collier
Stratton Press

"It’s as if I’m overhead looking down at this scared little boy, tiptoeing in a dark hallway toward a strange noise, looking for his mother."

Set in the post-World War II era, this memoir describes the childhood and young adulthood of the author as it was impacted by his mother’s heavy drinking and dysfunctional parenting. Collier and his brother were left in their mother’s sole care due to the early death of their father. Her parenting was at best neglectful and at worst abusive. As adults, Collier and his brother escaped and made lives for themselves; however, their mother constantly tried to pull them back with demands for money and care. At the memoir’s conclusion, Collier reflects on alcoholism and its effects on children.

This poignant recollection is at turns harrowing and heartbreaking. Collier describes his mother’s abusive behavior and descent into alcoholism with unflinching honesty. Scenes of her wild, pitiful, and often grotesque behavior are painted with vivid, razor-sharp detail. The narrative tone is detached, lending credibility to the memories, which Collier likens to “photographs.” The facts need no emotional embellishment. Many stories of alcoholics and addicts describe the sufferer as having redeeming qualities that contrast with destructive tendencies. Though capable of periods of sobriety and stability, the boys’ mother seems to have had very few positive traits. Instead, she exemplifies the alcoholic behavior of “taking hostages” in relationships through guilt-tripping and posing as helpless. It is revealed that toward the end of her life she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Despite his mother's failings, Collier does not blame her, and his reflections on alcoholism and abuse are unsympathetic to those who blame a traumatic childhood for adult problems. The story provides a snapshot of an earlier time when mental illnesses and addictions were too often left untreated, and those impacted by a loved one’s mental illness or addiction were expected to deal with the emotional fallout on their own.

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