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Grabbing at Water: A Mother-Daughter Memoir

by Joan Lambur and Maddy Lambur

Mother-daughter relationships, an evergreen subject for a memoir if there ever was one, are at the fore yet again in this shared memoir from Joan Lambur, the head of a television distribution and development company (and the woman who brought Teletubbies to Canada), and her daughter, Maddy.

In each chapter the Lamburs dutifully and cheerfully tag-team different versions of significant episodes in their life together, starting with Maddy’s childhood and moving through her harrowing adolescence. Readers may recognize pieces of themselves in either of the two women, and the situations – a rocky coming-of-age, the challenges of being a single parent – are fairly universal.

Despite this being a joint memoir, neither author takes the opportunity to question the other’s version of events, or to speculate about what the other was thinking or feeling beyond clichéd statements along the lines of “I know my mom was worried” or “Maddy makes me crazy when she comes home late.” Empathy and self-reflection are completely missing, a disturbing absence given that such things are what usually drive this kind of memoir.

There are flickers of understanding around the edges, particularly when Joan discusses Maddy’s childhood challenges. The final anecdote, which contains a revelation about Maddy’s behaviour, is tender as well as terrifying. But in between there’s a lot of banal storytelling and whitewashed sentiment. They’ve had their troubles, these women, but they don’t dig very deep in portraying them.