Linked Lives: Adult Daughters and Their Mothers, Lucy Rose Fischer Ph.D. (Harper and Row: $7.95); Love Child: A Novel, Jean Bedford (Penguin: $5.95); My Mother, My Self, Nancy Friday (Dell: $4.95). Here are several attempts to understand the loving, anxious, hateful, friendly feelings that often pass between mother and daughter. The least effective work is also the most objective: "Linked Lives," written by a University of Minnesota sociology professor, contends that mother-daughter relationships become more open when the daughter becomes a mother herself or when the mother becomes frail. This observation seems to be based in part on Lucy Fischer's own experience, but the author's feelings are too often eclipsed by academic recitations of the obvious: "The daughter who overtly rejects her mother as a model . . . is implying negative feelings or judgments about her mother." While published only last year, "Linked Lives" seems outdated, reporting, for instance, that daughters are more intimate with their mothers and more respectful of their fathers, but not questioning whether these attitudes are changing as more moms enter the workplace. Where Fischer is far removed from the emotional turmoil between mother and daughter, Grace and Anne are subsumed by it in the dark 1986 novel "Love Child." Vibrant and self-reliant, Grace seeks comfort through alcohol and fails to acknowledge and act upon her love for her father until his death.
Anne, Grace's daughter, inherits her mother's independent streak, and when Grace lies dying near the end of this fast-paced novel, both bemoan their isolation: "Why couldn't Anne say, 'you are my mother, I love you. It is my privilege to look after you.' Why wouldn't Grace say, 'I am old and lonely and frightened, you are all I have.' " An answer is suggested in "My Mother, My Self," an updated edition of a 1977 best seller: becoming like mother allows us to "overcome our separation anxieties," Nancy Friday writes, and helps blind us to our mother's weaknesses. A sensitive, subtle book, "My Mother, My Self" effectively balances Friday's own "dreams about motherhood" with a study of salient gender issues--how, for instance, many men today are in turmoil because they still equate masculinity with being a good provider: "If a woman is a good provider, then what is he?" Unlike the main players in "Love Child" and "Linked Lives," Friday stresses that cultivating closeness isn't always the key to successful mothering: "If we have a sense of failure about our lives, then . . . we must help our daughters find other models, other sources of love. Having mother's permission to love and emulate others, a daughter will naturally seek people who will love her back, and this is the beginning of self esteem." Friday is, of course, issuing a tall order, for mothers often seek in daughters clues about their own identity. As the poet Anne Sexton wrote, "I made you to find me."
Consuming Passions: The Dynamics of Popular Culture, Judith Williamson (Marion Boyars/Kampmann & Co.: $12). These spunky essays about how films, books, TV and advertisements delineate the limits of acceptability in society criticize the way popular culture reinforces the status quo, but never resort to doctrinaire Marxism. Judith Williamson's approach to cultural criticism, while original, also is narrower than the title might suggest, however, concentrating not on popular culture but on the way the mass media perpetuate chauvinistic images of women. "Men have 'desire' in TV ads," she writes, while "women have 'passion.' " Her ideas are sometimes mundane--"Royalty are at once like us, and not like us"--but more often unusual and eclectic, showing how the media strengthen our sense of self-worth, for example, even as they help placate our fears by encouraging consumerism.
Riding the Ox Home: A History of Meditation From Shamanism to Science, Willard Johnson (Beacon Press: $9.95). The author, a religious studies professor at San Diego State University, offers this book for religious contemplation as well as intellectual edification. We live in an age, he believes, "which desperately needs spiritual rejuvenation." "Amen," many of those growing up in the largely secular, though searching Western World are likely to say, but meditation based on the Buddhist tradition? Abandoning home, inheritance, material happiness and earthly desire for ascetic self-discipline, as did Buddhism's Siddhartha, seems an unlikely course of action for Westerners. Johnson develops a convincing argument in favor of meditation, though, by thoughtfully blending psychology, religion and Western history (from Socrates' ecstatic trances to the Christian mystics and Thoreau's contemplative stance).