Bequest and Betrayal: Memoirs of a Parent's Death
Nancy K. Miller
How do we live with our parents after their death? How do we tell their story when they are gone? These questions are the subject of Nancy K. Miller's moving new book, Bequest and Betrayal: Memoirs of a Parent's Death. Melding the details of her own experience with the familial biographies of well-known contemporary writers, Miller recreates a common experience--the loss of a father or a mother--and exposes the often tortuous paths of mourning and attachment that we follow in the wake of loss. In the process, she offers pieces of personal history, revealing the mixed emotions provoked by her mother's sudden death from cancer and her father's painful struggle with Parkinson's disease. Memoirs about the loss of parents show how enmeshed in the family plot we have been and the price of our complicity in its stories. The death of parents forces us to rethink our lives, to reread ourselves. We read for what we need to find. Sometimes, we also find what we didn't know we needed.Shifting back and forth between literature and life, Miller engages with other writers but also speaks to readers for whom these stories of loss will be poignantly familiar. What emerges is an innovative form of life-writing--the autobiography of a New York Jewish daughter, a childless woman, a literary critic--created in complex counterpoint both to contemporary memoirs and to our culture's scenarios of high-tech dying. Bequest and Betrayal works through the passionate ambivalence of gene-rational bonds and builds to its final chapter, an intimate portrait of Miller's father, a lawyer facing the end of his life and career. Reading the fragmentary pages of her father's diaries, Miller records the crisis of middle-class family and charts the steady decline of a man's body and mind.Losing parents and writing about their absence leads us to acknowledge our own mortality, to think anew about how we want to live the rest of our lives. Bequest and Betrayal explores the complicated ways in which mourning the loss of parents ultimately produces a story we can live with, a story that lets us move on.