By M.S.P. Williams
LISTEN MAMA by M.S.P. Williams opens with two of Manny’s younger siblings being taken away by Manny’s stepfather. With their grandmother crying and a cop car in the background, Manny does his best to hold back his own tears as his reassures Dominique and Dante that he will visit them soon. Though, he knows well enough that such a reunion is uncertain as his stepfather, Ray, seems to have no intention of coming to retrieve Manny and his remaining two sisters. After all, they are not “his kids”. All of this is written to his mother who is committed in a psychiatric hospital after her increasingly erratic behavior became violent. Soon, however, she leaves the hospital after refusing to cooperate with doctors during her involuntary observation period, and Manny must try to find his mother underneath her troubling behavior.
Narrated through a series of letters, recounting the days of his mother’s illness that Manny hopes she will one day be well enough to read, LISTEN MAMA makes for a particularly intimate memoir. Manny’s perceptions paint the image of an earnest young man, mature and bright, and still wanting to view the world through an optimistic lens. His caring nature contrasted with his matter-of-fact recounting of his mother’s psychotic episodes and his casual familiarity with the deeply flawed behavior of the adults around him, sets the tone for a story of a teenager who is forced to grow up too quickly. Manny’s narration offers a good balance between his personal worries and biases and, at times, depressingly objective view of his situation. He is as genuine in his belief that his mother will one day recover as he is in his cutting observations of her difficult personality even removed from her illness. These details allow for a three dimensionality in the characters and even Ray, who could easily have been relegated to the stock evil step-parent, is understood to be removing his children from their mother’s instances of physical violence.
LISTEN MAMA covers nearly two decades of Manny’s life and sees his siblings from grow innocent children through the pains and disappointments leading to adulthood. This broad time span often leads to moments where the reader shares in Manny’s surprise that his siblings had grown up without him noticing. However, between the poignant beats, casual details of Manny’s life like basketball scores, movies, and busy work fill the space. Though these moments do contribute to the framing of a son recording his life for his mother’s sake, there are instances where the pacing drags. Also, as a consequence of the very close first person perspective, characters outside of Manny such as his siblings and his grandmother can feel under characterized at times. Fortunately, though, the majority of the slice of life letters are charming, funny, or sobering enough to hold their own between larger life events, and when Manny’s siblings do take the scene, their interactions are some of the highlights of the piece.
LISTEN MAMA authentically details the sliding scale of hopes, frustrations, and disappoints, as Manny attempts to hold his loved ones and himself together, in the decades spanning belief that his family will one day be well and whole again.
~Yi Zou for IndieReader
Souls Take Flight
By M.S.P. Williams
LISTEN MAMA, by M.S.P. Williams, is a memoir of a son’s 20-year quest for his mother’s love. Told in a series of letters to his institutionalized mother, the author successfully conveys the emotional scenarios of his life. Historical and pop culture references makes this a relatable, heartfelt story.