Books, Movies & Plays
The books listed here may be helpful in dealing with loss, understanding the underpinnings of some estrangements, and with resolving estrangements. They may or may not relate to your personal situation. When I have read a book, I mention some of my thoughts about the book. A heart symbol indicates the most recent additions.
- Estrangement Definition
Abandoned Parents: The Devil's Dilemma: The Causes and Consequences of Adult Children Abandoning Their Parents by Sharon A. Wildey. Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 27, 2014). Sharon Wildey earned a BA in Sociology, JD in law and a MD in Theology. She has worked as a conflict mediator, trial lawyer and writer.
Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief by Pauline Boss, Harvard University Press, 1999.
"Bad" Mothers: The Politics of Blame in Twentieth-Century America Edited by Molly Ladd-Taylor and Lauri Umansky, 1998. Published by New York University Press. Twenty-six essays on Mothers. From the back cover:
"These provocative and moving essays make it crystal clear that the Bad Mother label is applied with such disregard for the facts that it is on the border of superstition. The overwhelming evidence in these well-researched studies shows that we must fashion a much more healthy ideal of motherhood that actually works for the good of the whole family. I highly recommend this book as one step on that path." by Diane Meyer, author of MotherGuilt: How Our Culture Blames Mothers for What is Wrong With Society.
Bertha Alyce: Mother exPosed by Gay Block.
This is a very unusual book that I found when I was shopping online for photography books. I have an interest in fine art photography. I purchased this book because it was both a text and photography book on a difficult mother/daughter relationship. Gay Block, author and photographer, is the daughter. Bertha Alyce, her mother, died in 1991. The book was published in 2003.
This book won't be for everyone. I found it fascinating and strange. There is nudity in it of both mother and daughter, individually and together.
Apparently Bertha Alyce was narcissistic. Gay Block describes some of the problems in their relationship but is vague on much of what caused her to dislike her mother from an early age. The reader needs to do a lot of reading between the lines.
This book takes a very different angle on how a daughter dealt with her feelings of estrangement from her mother. The estrangement wasn't one of being apart from each other. They were estranged while being in touch with each other. They were connected yet apart. Being physically in each other's presence did not deepen their relationship.
This book seemed almost cruel to me in that Gay Block photographs her mother as though Bertha Alyce were a fascinatingly deformed butterfly on a pin, unable to turn away from the gaze of her daughter and the lens of the camera. Is Gay Block attempting to understand her incomprehensible (to her) flawed mother? Or is she attempting to release all of her emotions for having the "wrong" kind of mother by exPosing her mother on film and on paper?
Since Bertha never saw the book as she died years ago, the author's family would be the ones who would be most affected by any embarrassment. It's not a pictorial Mommy Dearest but I wonder if the author's feelings that inspired her to do this book have any similarity to the feelings that inspired Mommy Dearest? A very strange book.
I am a person who feels private about my body. The idea of my mother and I being nude together or either one of us being nude in the presence of the other is not an appealing thought to me. The idea borders on horrifying because nudity has the connotation of vulnerability and intimacy and closeness. I would not feel comfortable being nude with my mother. I would not want to photograph her nude.
Yet in Bertha Alyce, as much as these two women are so nude together, the lack of clothes does nothing to make them closer. In fact, it is almost as if the lack of emotional closeness caused Gay Block and her mother to remove their clothes, precisely because they are NOT close. Their estrangement may have made being nude and in photographs together easier rather than more difficult. They were that emotionally distant from each other that nudity didn't matter. This is my interpretation. The book is open to many interpretations.
The Bill from My Father: A Memoir by Bernard Cooper.
I learned of this book from Mark Sichel, author of Healing From Family Rifts. I haven't yet read the book but it sounds fascinating. The author is the son of a Los Angeles divorce lawyer, now deceased, who might have been called a Daddy Dearest sort of father.
Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. The classic on codependence:
The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner. An oldy but goody on anger.
I haven't read this one but saw it when I was updating Amazon links for books. It is by the same author who wrote The Dance of Anger. It sounded as though it might be helpful so I added it to the list.
Dean and Me: (A Love Story) by Jerry Lewis.
New, as of 2005, book by Jerry Lewis, comedian, actor, fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy, about his relationship and subsequent estrangement with straight man, actor, and singer Dean Martin.
Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children by Sheri McGregor. Sewing Creek Press, May 3, 2016.
From the book's listing page on Amazon: "Sheri McGregor holds a bachelor's degree in psychology, a Master's in human behavior, and is a certified life coach. She serves on the advisory board for National University's College of Letters and Sciences. As a prolific writer, McGregor's articles on psychology, health, human behavior, and a variety of other topics have appeared in dozens of national and international publications. She has written for anthologies, websites, and organizations including the non-profit Families for Depression Awareness. Her two novels were first printed in the U.S., and then translated into several languages around the globe. McGregor's hiking guides for the San Diego area are popular among outdoor enthusiasts and armchair readers alike. She leads readers down the trails with descriptions that reveal her appreciation for nature and how it calms the mind. McGregor's work to help parents of estranged adult children began at RejectedParents.NET, which she founded in 2013."
Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You by Susan Forward (author of Toxic Parents) and Donna Frazier. I can't recall that I've read this one but maybe I should!
The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder: New Tools and Techniques to Stop Walking on Eggshells by Randi Kreger, Paperback. Hazelden 2008. ISBN-10: 1592853633 ISBN-13: 978-1592853632. Randi Kreger is co-author with Paul T. Mason, M.S. of Stop Walking on Eggshells published in 1998.
Family Lies by Candida Eittreim.
"We are all fairly familiar with the stories of pain, loss and confusion adoptees have shared. How dislocated and displaced these children often feel. How the need to know lives at the core of their beings, an unending ache that only finding out the truth can ease. Victims of family lies feel this same ache, sense of betrayal and loss. Modern families are often multi –parented and multi-cultured. Many children were the result of unwed pregnancies. Often a parent will make the decision to lie or pretty up this portion of their lives. In other instances, a parent, grandparent or other relative may simply omit, or hide a very close family connection, due to disagreements, estrangements or outright dislike. Some hide history out of a sense of shame or embarrassment. The result is the same, a sense of betrayal, loss of confidence and a deep sense of not fitting anywhere."
I haven't read this book. Found the reference to it on the internet. Sounds as though it may be interesting. Credit for the quote above probably goes to the author. I found it on the website where the book is described.
Family Estrangements: How They Begin, How to Mend Them, How to Cope with Them by Barbara LeBey. Longstreet Press, April 2001.
The author was estranged from her son. They have resolved their estrangement.
Family Wars: Classic Conflicts in Family Business and How to Deal with Them, written by Nigel Nicholson and Grant Gordon. To be released in April 2008 by Kogan Page.
A quote from an online article, Blood Ties, about the book, Family Wars: "For our book Family Wars, I and Grant Gordon (director general of the UK's Institute for Family Business) analysed 24 case histories worldwide, looking at some of the highest-profile family conflicts of recent times. We wanted to see what common themes they exhibited, and what lessons might be learned. They are an enthralling mix. There are awesome melodramas of skulduggery, double-cross, relentless vengeance and, in one case (the Gucci saga), even a hitman. Then there are more mundane but equally depressing stories - where families lock themselves into positions of increasing entrenchment."
Former Things by Gail Lowe. Publisher: Eloquent Books, May 2, 2010. A novel about mother/daughter estrangement that spans twenty years. Gail Lowe is a staff reporter for the Wakefield Daily Item and Melrose Weekly News in Massachusetts where she writes a column called Reflections from the Lowe Zone. She is also the owner of WordPower, a boutique company offering public relations, marketing and promotional services to the travel and tourism industry. In 2003, she founded Red Rock Writers, a creative writing collaborative. She also teaches writing at colleges in the Greater Boston area. She has a blog, also called Former Things, which is linked here.
FRAGMENTED FAMILIES: Patterns of Estrangement and Reconciliation by Ellen B. Sucov. Southern Hills Press 2006.
A thoughtful examination of familial estrangement from several perspectives: cultural, religious, historical, Biblical, and personal. Ellen Sucov is a retired psychologist who has had personal experience of the effects of estrangement in her own family. She speaks of the issues surrounding estrangement primarily from the perspective of the Jewish culture and religion but her thoughts on the topic can be extrapolated by the reader to other cultures and religions. The author has an excellent website about the book with additional thoughts and information on familial estrangements at www.fragmentedfamilies.com.
For Mothers of Difficult Daughters; How to Enrich and Repair the Relationship in Adulthood by Dr. Charney Herst with Lynette Padwa, Villard Books, 1998.
The Grief Recovery Handbook : The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death Divorce, and Other Losses by John W. James and Russell Friedman, Harper Perennial, 1998.
Grown-Up Children Who Won't Grow Up by Dr. Larry V. Stockman and Cynthia S. Graves, Prima Publishing, 1994.
Heal & Forgive: Forgiveness in the Face of Abuse by Nancy Richards. Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2005. The author has a blogspot blog, Heal and Forgive, where she posts about abuse, estrangement, forgiveness, reconciliation, and related issues.
Heal and Forgive II: The Journey from Abuse and Estrangement to Reconciliation by Nancy Richards. Blue Dolphin Publishing. 2008.
Nancy Richards' most recent book in which she shares her story of having been estranged for fourteen years from her mother, brothers, and others in her immediate family due to having been abused and then reconciling. A very personal account of estrangement and reconciliation.
Mark offers good advice to those who are suffering from the initial shock and pain of becoming estranged.
Heavy Snow - My Father's Disappearance into Alzheimer's by John E. Haugse.
A book on a difficult relationship between a father and son which ends with the son's struggle to care for his father when the father develops Alzheimer's. A synopsis
I Am My Mother's Daughter: Making Peace With Mom-before It's Too Lateby Iris Krasnow. Published by Perseus Books Group, March 2006. ISBN: 0465037542
I haven't read this book and am not familiar with the author's writing. However, in an interesting online essay, Fake memoir -- real consequences about literary wannabes, Rita Williams mentions a healed estrangement with her sisters. She sounds like such an excellent writer with an interesting story to tell that I am including her book because it touches on sibling estrangement, whether or not she talks about the topic in depth. The book is most likely an interesting read.
I have read this book. While I found it interesting and could relate to some of what Susan Jordan had experienced in her life, it wasn't a helpful book as far as furthering my own understanding of estrangement. It is a good book to read in that her story has parallels to others and can help others know that the experience is not unique. I could empathize with her feelings and with her experiences.
I've noticed that several authors who have written books on estrangement and who have been estranged from their adult children write well on the experience of becoming and being estranged but most haven't found a way to resolve the estrangement. They write books but they generally don't have any more answers that the rest of us do. Assuming that an answer means resolution. Maybe this means that often the answer must be something else.
I Thought We'd Never Speak Again: The Road from Estrangement to Reconciliation by Laura Davis. HarperCollins March 26, 2002.
To get perspective on Laura Davis's history of writing books and this book in particular, this Salon.com article, Truth and Reconciliation by Julia Gracen, May 22, 2002 about Davis's book is enlightening. I would suggest reading it before ordering and reading this book.
I've read part of I Thought We'd Never Speak Again. Years ago I read Davis's The Courage to Heal. Her writing has helped a lot of people deal with their experiences of having been abused sexually. However, her writing on recovered memories in The Courage to Heal has resulted in heartache and estrangement in families where people took her advice regarding recovered memories to heart and believed that in every case where a therapist assisted them in recovering a memory, that the recovered memory was the absolute truth and the same as a memory that didn't need to be recovered. Then they estranged themselves from their families, based on their belief in the truth of those recovered memories. Now she writes a book on estrangements? Do you see the irony?
Davis is a good writer and researcher. I feel better after reading her words rather than worse. However, due to the controversy over her writing I include here the link to the Salon.com article as well as the link to the website for the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Families have had relationships destroyed due to the belief that abuse occurred that never occurred.
Thinking about these issues makes me want to recommend Davis's book with caution, even though I like her writing.
Make Peace with Anyone: Breakthrough Strategies to Quickly End Any Conflict, Feud, or Estrangement by David J. Lieberman, Ph.D., St. Martin's Press, February 2002.
Making Loss Matter : Creating Meaning in Difficult Times by Rabbi David Wolpe. Riverhead Books, 1999.
I've only read the book jacket and taken a quick look inside. It is written from a different perspective than one I usually venture into: a religious perspective. Since many people do find support through religion, I include it here. I may even read it one of these days!
I bought it on sale and liked what I read on the book jacket. A quote from the jacket: "...how do I make this loss meaningful? Its origin was a mystery. What would be its end? Could I, with the power of my own hand and heart, turn a painful inexplicable loss into a generator of purpose and hope?"
From Mother and Daughter to Friends: A Memoir by Nancy Aniston (mother of Jennifer Aniston from whom she was estranged. They reconciled in 2005.)
Similar in spirit to the book by Susan Jordan. I recommend this book for the same reasons as Jordan's book. There are no answers but you may find some similarities to your own estrangement.
The relationship between Rona Maynard and her sister, Joyce Maynard had been troubled but has improved in recent years. They wrote an article together that was published in the Canadian and U.S. editions of MORE Magazine. Their stories are also on their respective websites at ronamaynard.com (click the Popular Articles link) and joycemaynard.com.
The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do by Judith Rich Harris. 1998.
A good read for those who are interested in theories on how and why we turn out the way that we do. Having been one of those people who used to blame so much on parents, this book gave me a different perspective on the influence in our lives of the group, the people with whom we came into contact besides our immediate family.
A provocative and interesting book that might help you let go of some of your sense of over-responsibility if you are the sort, like me, who has blamed yourself for everything that ever happened with your kids or has blamed other parents for everything that happened with their kids. There are other factors at work. None of us are all powerful. Recognizing the power of other factors helps to put things into a healthier perspective.
Remarried with Children: Ten Secrets for Successfully Blending and Extending Your Family by Barbara LeBey. A new book by LeBey which I have not read.
Step By Wicked Step by Anne Fine: Boston: Little, Brown, C1996 Hardback, Fiction, 138 p., ISBN: 0316283452. (No link available for this one.)
Summary: Five schoolmates share the stories of their parents' estrangements, divorces, and remarriages and the effects these events have had on their lives.
Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care about Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul T. Mason, M.S. and Randi Kreger, New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 1998.
I recommend this book highly to anyone who has a relative who has Borderline Personality Disorder. I reread it whenever enough time has passed that I begin to forget what it has to say. It can help you keep your sanity when it seems as though the insane are running the asylum.
This 'n' That by Bette Davis with Michael Herskowitz, A Berkley Book, NY, NY, 1988.
My Mother's Keeper by B.D. Hyman, daughter of Bette Davis.William Morrow and Company, 1985.
Turbulent Souls:: A Catholic Son's Return To His Jewish Family by Stephen J. Dubner
From Stephen J. Dubner's website: "Only when he reached his twenties did he discover his parents' extraordinary story, a story full of bitter estrangements, hard-fought triumphs, and deep secrets (Ethel Rosenberg, executed as an atomic spy in 1953, was his mother's first cousin). In excavating the story, he felt the tug of the religion his parents had abandoned and began to pursue it as vigorously as they had pursued their adopted faith. Along the way, he met dozens of his own Jewish relatives, traveled to his grandparents' shtetl in Poland, re-created the life of his late father, wrestled with the implications of the Holocaust, and saw his relationship with his mother curdle so thoroughly that it would fall to the Archbishop of New York, John Cardinal O'Connor, to help broker a peace.
Turbulent Souls is a luminous memoir, crafted with the eye of a journalist and the art of a novelist. In turns comic and heartbreaking, it tells the story of a family torn apart by religion, sustained by faith, and reunited by the truth that is revealed in these pages. "
Unless: A Novel (P.S.) by Carol Shields.
Excellent writing. Estrangement between a young woman and her family plays a central role in the story but the story itself is more about other issues such as women writers and their treatment in the literary world, the world of writers and writing, the process of writing, and women's anger at being trivialized and overlooked.
When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us : Letting Go of Their Problems, Loving Them Anyway, and Getting on with Our Lives by Jane Adams. Free Press 2003. ISBN: 0743232801
When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along by Joshua Coleman, Ph.D., Published in July 2007.
Why Is It Always About You? Saving Yourself from the Narcissists in Your Life by Sandy Hotchkiss, LCSW. The Free Press, 2002.
Like Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder wreaks havoc on relationships and families. People who are pathologically narcissistic tend to cut off anyone who says anything that they perceive as being critical. If they don't cut off a relationship, they still tend to be so difficult that they wear poorly on friends and relatives.
Sometimes I think that we would do well to offer classes in personality disorders in public schools so that we had some clue as to the crazymaking personalities that we are fated to encounter when we grow up and find ourselves wondering who is the crazy person – us or the person who seems to be working at driving us crazy?
You're Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation by Deborah Tannen. Random House, New York, 2006.
Good book that gives insight into how words are heard with more than their literal meaning by mothers and daughters when they talk with each other. Gives examples of how problems arise and suggestions for ways of avoiding conflict. The author is a linguist, not a therapist, so take note of that when reading the book. Tannen's interest is in words rather than in providing answers to solving relationship problems. But this is a fascinating read and does give a different take on words and the relationships between mothers and daughters. I've read this one and would recommend it.
- Million Dollar Baby. Clint Eastwood as Frankie Dunn. Hilary Swank as Maggie Fitzgerald. Morgan Freeman as Scrap. Boxing trainer Frankie Dunn's estrangement from his daughter is a wound that never heals. He hopes for reconciliation but his letters go unread.
Maggie is a 30 year old woman who dreams of succeeding at being a boxer. Nothing else in her life gives her any hope or sustenance. Her family is a wasteland of manipulative mindbogglingly selfish people who have no love to offer. Frankie and Maggie bond to form a relationship that gives both something that they can't get elsewhere. This is a love story of a different sort. Official Movie Website
- He Got Game. A Spike Lee Film. A central issue is the father son relationship/estrangement.
- Nothing in Common. Jackie Gleason as the father and Tom Hanks as the son. Classified as a comedy but is also a tragedy. It is a story of the very difficult relationship between a father and a son. Review by Roger Ebert: The link is no longer good to a review by Roger Ebert went dead, alas!
- Magnolia Official Site: Very intense movie. Estrangement as a human condition is one theme. There are two sets of relationships that are estranged: a father/son relationship and a father/daughter relationship.
- Terms of Endearment, Debra Winger, Shirley MacLaine, and Jack Nicholson. A tragic story about the difficult relationship between a mother and daughter. On video
- The Limey, 1999. A story about a father and ex-con who has been estranged from his daughter. After he learns that she has been murdered, he travels from Britain to the U.S. to investigate and avenge her murder.
- The Hours, 2003. A day in the lives of 3 women. An estrangement plays a pivotal role in the film.
- Daughter of Suicide. An HBO documentary film by Dempsey Rice whose mother, Bonnie Rice, committed suicide in 1987. Bonnie Rice and her two daughters were estranged from each other.
- In Her Shoes. 2005 Movie with Cameron Diaz, Shirley Maclaine, and Toni Collette. All these sisters have in common is their shoe size. A lightweight examination of the underpinnings of estrangement. Enjoyable if not deep.
Cameron Diaz is always fun. Maclaine portrays getting older with dignity and elegance. Toni Collette is the example of the overly responsible good girl who needs to let her hair down. Cameron is the one who can't keep her hair up ... metaphorically.
- Memories of Me. 1988. The son, Abbie, is played by Billy Crystal, Abe, the father, by Alan King. The son is a hardworking surgeon who has problems with his heart in more than one way. He hasn't been able to sustain a close relationship with anyone. Then he suffers a heart attack which makes him go and visit the wisecracking actor father with whom he has had a distant and difficult relationship. Abe has played more than his share of parts as an extra. His behavior as a father left something to be desired. This movie is poignant and alternately funny and sad.
From the movie:
Alan King: "It's like old times. You and me talking about our problems."
Billy Crystal: "We never talked about our problems!"
Alan King: "Why talk about problems?"
- Dolores Claiborne. 1995. Based on a Stephen King book, the movie is about whether the curmudgeonly mother, played by Kathy Bates, killed her abusive husband years ago and later her employer, Vera Donovan, or did bad accidents follow her around.
Central to the story is her distant relationship with her daughter, Salina, who shows up for the first time after 15 years when Vera is found dead with Dolores standing over her with a marble rolling pin in her hands. Salina has been estranged from Dolores and is bitter, angry, exasperated and unbelieving of her mother's explanation of what happened.
In one scene the mother describes her husband's brutal physical abuse of her to Salina who wants to remember her father as a loving respectable dad and resists any facts that don't fit in with that image. Salina responds to the tale of abuse with, "What do you want me to say? Thanks for sharing?" and then, "I'm sorry, Mother. Sometimes being a bitch is the only thing a woman has to hold on to." A statement echoed years previously in almost the same words by Dolores' employer, Vera Donovan, when told by Dolores of the husband's abuse of both Dolores and Salina prior to his death.
- Margot at the Wedding is as raw and painful as real life, a Dec. 14, 2007 review by Jay Stone on the OttawaCitizen.com. I hope to see this movie. Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh play the roles of sisters estranged.
- The Darjeeling Limited. Dec. 14, 2007 movie review by Eliza Cracknell on news.com australia. Three brothers who have not spoken for a year go on a trip. Brothers played by Jason Schwartzmann, Adrian Brody, and Owen Wilson.
Buried Child, a Sam Shepard play, reviewed by Bryce Hallett on September 27, 2002. Quote from Hallett's review: "'We're just this incredible race of strangers,'" the playwright once remarked, and it is this hard, telling insight which can be seen to constantly drive his explorations of family, identity and independence. The fragile, perhaps illusory, family ties evoked by Shepard are just as likely to set people apart as bind them."
An act of breaking away from a previously friendly relationship.
Thesaurus: separation, split, break-up, division, parting.
A state or feeling of being no longer friendly.
Thesaurus: dissociation, disaffection, hostility, antipathy, alienation, antagonism, breach.
Etymology: 15th century, from French estranger, from Latin extraneare to treat as a stranger.