As young-adults, we’re often used to reading books about ourselves and our own experiences. We’re interested in entertainment, a good story, or some advice about how to live our lives right now. Sometimes, though, it’s useful to read a book about what our future might be like—what issues may lie ahead for us, and how others have coped with the “big questions” of life.
Patricia Hampl’s new memoir, The Florist’s Daughter, explores life in the middle—a lower-middle class family in the Midwest—and speaks to a generation of American women who struggle with responsibility and regrets as they assume the role as caretakers to their aging parents.
Hampl’s life, and this memoir, are products of a Catholic upbringing. Her book will speak to many young-adult Catholics, men and women alike.
Framed as a series of recollections of her family life as Hampl sits by her mother’s death bed, composing her obituary, Hampl’s prose is part descriptive poetry, part in-depth character profiles, creating a snapshot of life in post-War St. Paul, Minnesota. Hampl describes her father, a Czech florist, as an innocent who “never achieves irony,” while her mother, an Irish file clerk and librarian, was the cynic with the sharp and watchful eye.
The Florist’s Daughter grabs the reader’s heart by acknowledging the cost of family obligations. As a child, Patricia Hampl wanted to escape St. Paul—describing her younger years as her “let-me-out-of-here girlhood”—but sitting at her mother’s side that final night in the hospital, she writes of the family bonds that kept her within several blocks of her childhood home her entire life.
It’s an everywoman story of a daughter’s revelations—seeing and hearing her parents as adults only late in life.
Like Hampl’s other memoirs, The Florist’s Daughter is underpinned by her Catholic upbringing, a life lived in the shadow of the large St. Paul’s
Cathedral. Honor and modesty are core values in the Hampl household, and with elegiac detail, Patricia explores the nuances of such weighty ideals. “Nothing is harder to grasp than a relentlessly modest life,” she writes.
This is a book about emotion, not action. By describing the scenery, Hampl allows the reader to put him- or herself into the picture, encouraging all of us to feel sadness, ambivalence and hope as our own. The Midwest, Hampl writes, is the place where the “American imagination has decided to archive innocence.”
The death of her parents fills Hampl with grief that she describes as a “form of disorientation” more than sadness. She was the daughter for her whole life—that was her purpose and her identity. Released from this role, it is unclear what lies ahead. “The Commandment,” Hampl recites as she describes her father’s death, “isn’t to love them. It’s to honor them.”
With this memoir, which she dedicates to her brother Peter, she honors her family. She also allows each daughter who read this book to honor her parents, as flawed and beautiful.
As the saying goes, a son is a son until he takes a wife; a daughter is a daughter all her life.