The Great Depression was a test of the common man’s force of will, with survival dependent upon circumstances, strength of character, strength of family, and oftentimes sheer luck. It also inspired some of the greatest American literature ever written. Now, through the unflinching eyes of eight-year-old Margaret and her eleven-year-old brother Thomas, bestselling novelist Mary McGarry Morris tells the story of one ordinary family’s journey through this extraordinary time in her brilliant new novel, The Lost Mother.
Like so many others during Depression-era America, Thomas and Margaret Talcott have endured more than any child should. Their father, Henry, can’t find steady work, and they’ve lost their home and are now living in a tent. Yet to them, nothing is more devastating than their mother’s absence. Unable to cope with the demands of a taciturn husband and two young children, the beautiful and mysterious Irene has simply walked away from her life. Now Henry, Margaret, and Thomas are struggling to hold on to the last thing of value they still possess: each other.
Their struggle, however, becomes increasingly difficult. The weather turns cold, Margaret and Thomas are sent to school shivering and wet in “miserable shoes,” and life in the tent is no longer possible. Henry swallows his pride, and the family goes to stay with his longtime friend Gladys and her father Old Bibeau. But Old Bibeau has never forgiven Henry for marrying Irene instead of Gladys, and his unrestrained resentment makes life there intolerable. Henry then takes the children to stay with their Aunt Lena, a drunk and dysfunctional woman, as he desperately looks for work, sinking deeper and deeper into a morass of frustration and despair. The final blow comes when he is unjustly arrested and the children are, unwittingly, taken in by his accusers, Mr. and Mrs. Farley.
The Farleys are a wealthy couple who have everything except the one thing they want most of all—a “normal” child. Mrs. Farley will go to any lengths to create a “real” family and provide companionship for her only son, Jesse-boy, who is sickly and unable to walk. Margaret and Thomas now have all the creature comforts they’ve been lacking, yet they are both miserable. And soon Jesse-boy’s abusive behavior drives the children away to search for their mother. But when they find her, it becomes clear that Irene’s new life leaves no room for her children.
With their father still in jail and Irene unable and unwilling to be a mother again, the children are sent to an orphanage. Life at St. Elizabeth’s is grim, and one day it looks as if their fear of permanent separation might come true. But at last someone steps in to give the children the sense of family they so desperately need.
With The Lost Mother, her sixth novel, Mary McGarry Morris once again proves herself to be a master storyteller, weaving a haunting and unforgettable tale about one ordinary family’s struggle to survive in extraordinary times.