DOUBLE Book Review: In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens and Untamed

A woman, unless she submits
is neither a mule
nor a queen
though like a mule she may suffer
and like a queen pace the floor.

The above is an excerpt of an Alice Walker’s poem, found again in one of the collected essays of In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. I wonder if Glennon Doyle has read it. I think she would enjoy it, as much of Untamed is spent discussing exactly how to avoid being either a mule or a queen, so to speak. It was by complete happenstance that I started reading them at the same time: Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens being the arbitrary starting point for me off my list of 36 Minority Writers on Faith and Glennon Doyle’s Untamed being gifted to me by my sister. Reading them together was a heady experience, as they uncannily complimented each other in their ability to speak directly to my own life. Perhaps this speaks to the universality of our shared experiences, which is a nice thought in and of itself. Perhaps God meant for me to read them together, which will make some people roll their eyes, but I think it is also a nice thought.

Neither of these books is “religious” per se, though both books do touch upon “religion.” But I do not see my Christianity as separate and apart from the rest of my life, something that needs only be acknowledged on Sundays and holidays. Things as varied and mundane as gardening, child-care, and drunken late-night conversation can have a real bearing on our souls. I believe God designed it that way, so I wanted to share these two books with you on a “religious” blog, since they were stepping stones on my spiritual journey. (You can read my in-depth reviews of these books, as well as my other recommendations, on my GoodReads account.)

In short, Doyle’s book galvanized me and Walker’s book uplifted me. As a woman who is searching for meaning, finding out what it means to be something beyond “wife,” and “mother” while stepping back from the business I helped build with my husband, the prologue of Untamed rattled me so much I almost didn’t read the rest of the book.  In it, Doyle recalls seeing a cheetah born in captivity who clearly still has some sort of ancestral or muscle memory of the wild. 

She gives this cheetah a voice: “Something’s off about my life. I feel restless and frustrated. I have this hunch that everything was supposed to be more beautiful than this. I imagine fenceless, wide-open savannas. I want to run and hunt and kill. I want to sleep under an ink-black, silent sky filled with stars…I should be grateful. I have a good enough life here. It’s crazy to long for what doesn’t even exist.”

“You are not crazy,” Doyle answers the imaginary cheetah-rambling. “You are a goddamn cheetah.”

I felt – I still feel – exactly the way she described that cheetah, and it was unnerving to have a person I’ve never met before put into words something I was having trouble defining even for myself. I used to be scared that whatever creative endeavor I’m starting might fail, afraid to see them through to the end. But now, after reading Untamed, I’m afraid not to see them through to the end.

Walker, for her part, caught all the complexities of my Southern, female soul. Forty years my senior, a different race, different occupation, different sexual orientation and religious beliefs than me — and all I could feel was our similarities. I felt so much less alone after reading In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. Her writings gave me permission to love the South. For all its wounds and wrongs, it is still a place of wondrous beauty and deep inspiration. Her essay, “One Child of One’s Own” encapsulates perfectly the joy and revelation, as well as the frustration and constraints, I have experienced as an artist who is now a mother. Throughout the book Walker highlights the sisterhood of women – yes, black women to be sure, but all women, as well – reminding us that it is our duty and our benefit to listen to each other, to lift up one another. To that end, I think her essay “A Talk: 1972” (titled further on in the text “How to Speak About Practically Everything, Briefly, From the Heart”) should be required reading for all women in America.

I (re)realized something, reading these two books together: If we answer Walker’s call in earnest to lift each other up, we will achieve Doyle’s proposed goal of finding our own wild again. We will live freely, neither mules nor queens, but wild and beautiful as cheetahs. And that, I think, is the way God would want it.

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2 Comments

  1. I am also at that stage of my life where I am learning and re-presenting myself to folx. It was exhausting trying to fit some mold that didn’t feel quite right. Every now and again, though, I get panicky that I waited too damn long to do this internal work. But I don’t think it’s ever too late to be oneself authentically, whatever that means and wherever it takes you.

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    1. I hear you, both on the waiting too long *and* never too late part. I’m going to be writing about the action that happens in waiting very soon here, because I find myself so often just…waiting. I think a lot of people feel the same way.

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