Jakes tells the fictionalized story of his late Welsh-American mother, Elaine, in a debut novel that’s a charming look into one eccentric woman’s life. The author recounts various anecdotes throughout his mother’s colorful life in a confessional, first-person narrative inspired by Elaine’s own written accounts. In this book, Elaine spins seemingly outlandish tales of adopting a pet monkey, causing a college professor’s dismissal from his job, chasing would-be robbers with a blunt antique sword, and struggling with her own religious and ethnic identities, as she favors Judaism and Chinese culture over her Welsh Presbyterian upbringing. She does all this while also raising her son, Homer. A strong theme of homecoming runs throughout the tale, most obviously represented by a grotesquely decorated cheese plate including, necessarily, Welsh cheese. As a single mother during the 1960s and ’70s, Elaine is very much a product of her time period, searching for a sense of self and looking ever outward—to religion, to Eastern philosophy, and to the “intelligentsia” of New Hope, Pennsylvania. Only later in life does she appreciate the lessons of her upbringing and the God of her forefathers. Jakes’ prose style will be quite enjoyable to the literary-minded, with its many instances of alliteration and allusions to great Western writers (as well as an influence from St. Augustine’s Confessions). The anecdotes do jump around chronologically, however, which sometimes makes it difficult to keep up with or fully comprehend the tales. Although Elaine is a great storyteller, there are instances where she seems unlikable, such as when she stubbornly overfeeds her cat and insists that it’s not morbidly and unhealthily obese. Overall, however, these moments serve to keep her human. They’ll allow readers to feel that although she often speaks of God and Christianity, she does so without judgment, as someone who’s led a unique and imperfect life.
A relatable, funny story of a spiritual journey for anyone who appreciates wacky anecdotes.
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