A truly sublime work of literary art
- Book: Coffee Killed My Mother
- Location: Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia
- Author: Donna Koros Stramella
The first thing I loved about Coffee Killed My Mother is the title. It’s the kind that makes one pause and think, “hmm, that sounds intriguing, I wonder what it’s about.” And I did wonder, throughout much of the book, whether coffee would somehow end up having at least some small role in the death of Anna Lee’s mother. And whether she would in fact die at all.
As I worked my way through the chapters I began to think of The Catcher in the Rye. I didn’t see Anna Lee as some facsimile of Holden Caulfield, longing to preserve the innocence of her own childhood, but perhaps someone who’d gone down that road already at a very early age and was just now beginning to come out the other side and amazingly, largely unscathed. It became apparent early on that her family situation had been difficult—her father left her mother and married her mother’s best friend, and her mother never quite got over it.
The book begins as Anna Lee and her mom embark on a road trip to visit various coffee houses and diners along the east coast. Anna Lee grudgingly goes along and initially finds many things to complain about as they drive from city to city. She even starts a list in her journal, Reasons My Mother is Crazy. We find later on that Anna Lee likes to make lists of things, a way of creating order out of chaos; perhaps a defense mechanism that helped her deal with a difficult childhood. She even has a list of great book beginnings. I half expected one of them to be “If you really want to hear about it, the very first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like…” But as the book moves along, Anna begins to warm to her mother and even begins to have a good time.
There are things that happen, things Anna Lee’s mother says and does that makes one think she is trying to make it up to Anna Lee, to apologize for her inadequacies as a mother and for the absence of her father. And for other things as well—we learn later that while coffee might be the only real addiction her mom has, it wasn’t always that way.
I won’t give the ending away—you will have to read it to find out if coffee did in fact kill Anna Lee’s mother, or if she even died at all. If you do, you’ll be glad you did, as this post-coming of age literary novel is a truly sublime work of literary art that is, though perhaps less colloquially, Salinger-esque.