The poet Marianne Moore had a deeply close—perhaps too close—relationship with her mother, Mary. This idiosyncratic bond intrigued Moore’s contemporaries and her biographer Linda Leavell, who trains her eye on it in Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore. As Leavell writes, the poet’s mother could be cruel (she made marriage impossible for her daughter and even poisoned her cat), but she was also a unique mental match for Moore, serving as a confidante and an attentive editor.
Family relationships are often hard to grasp for those who are not a part of them. Memoirists can offer a glimpse into these normally hidden dynamics. Janny Scott, a reporter who has investigated family secrets, focuses on her own father’s past in The Beneficiary. In The Mighty Franks, the author Michael Frank writes about his relationship with his aunt—one that veered from devotion to possessiveness. The writer Mira Jacob takes a deceptively simple approach in her graphic memoir about life in an interracial family, sharing conversations she’s had about race with different family members. Rather than promise any solutions, Jacob instead directly—and often uncomfortably—depicts the messy confusion of these discussions.