Title: If You Knew Suzy: A Mother, a Daughter, a Reporter’s Notebook
Author: Katherine Rosman
Release date: May 2011
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Source: Personal collection (memoir class)
Rating: 2 out of 5
After her mother’s death, Katie Rosman is left reeling. Her mother, Suzy, was only 60 years old, and the diagnosis of lung cancer came as a shock to the nonsmoker. After Suzy’s death, Rosman, a journalist, decides to investigate her mother’s life in order to understand how she faced her own death.
She interviews disparate but important people in Suzy’s life: a boutique clothier, a doctor in the ICU, a Pilates instructor, an antique glass collector, a golf player. In so doing, Rosman comes to a fuller understanding of who her mother was and the impact she had on her loved ones.
I liked the idea of this book, but I wasn’t a fan of how it was executed. Rosman’s voice is bubbly and fun, and it was at odds with the seriousness of her subject; she comes off as shallow and immature.
In fact, I was turned off on the first page, when the author recounts stealing her mother’s credit card and going on a shopping spree on the day that Suzy dies. Sure, shopping was a thread that connected mother and daughter, but it still seems insensitive and wrong somehow. My distaste grew as Rosman painted a picture of a sometimes selfish, neurotic woman who was terrified of dying.
She seems uncomfortable in the memoir genre, seeming more comfortable in interviewing others—even including complex details about those she interviews that have nothing to do with Suzy’s story.
Far from feeling closure at the end, I thought there were topics in her life and her mother’s life that Rosman left untouched. She details the thousands of dollars that her mother spent on collectible glass, but she fails to detail—and perhaps she doesn’t have enough information to detail—her mother’s inner life.
While I was intrigued by the idea of turning a reporter’s eye on a loved one, I did not enjoy this book. I wouldn’t have continued reading if it weren’t assigned in class. However, I did learn some tips. Interviewing those you wouldn’t normally think of can offer unexpected insight into a loved one’s life. And I also learned that having a tight, well-thought-out elevator pitch or story arc helps pull together otherwise disparate elements of a story, bringing it into tight control.