‘The Hero of this Book’ by Elizabeth McCracken – A “Novel” about her Mother


‘The Hero of this Book’ by Elizabeth McCracken     (2022) – 177 pages


We could all spend some time thinking about our mothers. Your birth mother, that woman who went through all that trouble to bring you into this world, surely deserves it.

We love our mothers, and most of us could write nice things about them. If we couldn’t, it would probably make for a more interesting book.

Elizabeth McCracken’s mother is the hero of this memoir. I have no doubt that her mother was a wonderful person. Maybe that was the problem for me. This “novel” lacked a certain tension, a certain drama, which a conflict or a villain would have given it.

Early on, Elizabeth McCracken writes that if you invent even one minor character then your memoir becomes a novel. I believe her, and I believe that is what she has done in ‘The Hero of this Book’. Thus we have only a fictional “gentle, blinky Englishman named Trevor” who checks her into her hotel. All of the details our narrator tells us about herself and her father and her mother are just too exact to have been made up.

Our narrator takes a trip to London several months after her mother dies and recalls previous trips she had made with her mother and remembers what her mother was like. Her mother was left with a gimpy leg at childbirth either due to a forceps injury or cerebral palsy. For the last few years of her life she used a scooter device to get from place to place.

On this trip to London by herself, our narrator visits the places she visited with her mother before, the Tate Modern, the Tate Britain, the London Eye, and a production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. At the Tate Britain, our narrator gives us a half-page listing of all the things she could buy at the Tate Britain museum store. This interminable list does not exactly make for scintillating reading. It felt like filler to me.

I hope no one else reads this book expecting the qualities of good fiction. It has no plot line, no conflict, no drama, not even particularly interesting characters. This “novel” is contrived to avoid criticism at all costs. It is McCracken’s paean to her mother, broken up occasionally with one of the author’s asides, usually about writing. At times one of these asides can be humorous.

She liked to quote her favorite New Yorker cartoon, a man on an analyst’s couch, saying, “I had a difficult childhood, especially lately.”

Occasionally things are lightened by an anecdote or some other tidbit. However most of the stories about her mother would only be of interest to her family members. Even as a memoir, I did not find it particularly entertaining.

However, this is still a memoir, folks. I guess I’m not as happy to be fooled into reading a memoir under the guise of being a novel as most other reviewers seem to be.


Grade:   C+



3 responses to this post.

  1. Villainous mothers are much more interesting…

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      Villainous fathers are a dime a dozen; villainous mothers are much more rare and special. 🙂



      • Ha, I remember seeing a whole thread about this on Twitter on Mother’s Day, people speaking up about the pressure to be sentimental about mothers they’re rather forget. People suggested a whole lot of titles, but foolishly, I didn’t compile a list!



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