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Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother

by Priscila Uppal

Priscila Uppal, author of nine books of poetry, brings her unique lyrical approach to one of literature’s trickiest forms – the family memoir. Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother mines the intimate depths of the author’s most private experiences, as she bravely tackles being reunited with the woman who deserted her, her brother, and her quadriplegic father. Like most family narratives, the material runs the risk of wading into overbearing sentimentality, but Uppal’s approach has a surprising coolness, conveying a dramatic story with admirable control and an artfully imposed structure.

The near-unbelievable tale begins in 2002 in Uppal’s basement apartment in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. Twenty years previously, the author’s mother had drained the family’s bank accounts and fled, twice trying to abduct Priscila and her brother before severing all contact with them. Jolted into action by the accidental online discovery of her long-absent mother’s location, Uppal boards a plane and heads off for a reunion in Brazil that is both emotionally loaded and oddly anticlimactic.

The woman who greets her at the airport is a flesh-and-blood stranger with a rabid passion for movies, and Uppal inventively structures what could be a meandering tale by framing the narrative around the multiple films her mother consumes each day. Incorporating movie and pop-culture references as storytelling devices is what makes this book truly shine; it renders Projection accessible for readers who may not identify with Uppal’s familial history. 

Above all, Uppal is an impeccable writer, deftly infusing complex scenes and emotions with power and weight. Though she is deeply invested in the ramifications of her mother’s desertion, she has enough distance to assess it clearly. Her questions may not all get answered, but Uppal brings us closer to an understanding of what mothers mean to us, and how being motherless, regardless of circumstance, affects identity, stability, and comfort. The control Uppal exerts over her narrative voice and the unique way she structures this minefield of a tale make Projection a worthy read.