In the novel Museum of Stones, we follow an unnamed narrator through the journey of what motherhood is really like. And in her third work, Lynn Lurie masterfully depicts this chaotic, frightening, loving, and sometimes neurotic life of being a mother to an extraordinary son. Through the unnamed narrator, Lurie brings us into the mind of a new mother to experience everything she is experiencing. We are given her life in a series of carefully chosen, interwoven vignettes that blend together the narrator’s past and her present. Moving between the United States and Peru, the narrative pushes forward and backward through space and time and snares our emotions in the in-between.
From the very beginning of the work, Lurie uses an unnamed narrator to highlight the universal idea of motherhood. The idea of a mother is that of the one who wakes up for the feeds between ten p.m. and eight a.m. She changes the diapers, writes down and celebrates the milestones, and gives everything she has to her child while he is growing up, even into adulthood. It is sacrifice, love, devotion, frustration, and terror. This narrator could be any, and often is, every mother; but she is especially the mother of exceptional children, children who do not reach the same milestones as other children do. Lurie provides an in-depth look at what goes through the mind of such a mother, the worry and fear along with the guilt that perhaps it was all her fault. The narrator examines each instance where things could have gone wrong: the baby formula that might have contained lead, every time he was ill, leaving him with a nanny so she could work. The drinking and medicating to cope when it became too much. The middle of the night phone call when the child is grown and the narrator hesitates with the belief that “If I do not answer, whatever it is that has happened will not become present” and then staying awake when “no one is on the line” when she does answer because terror has taken hold.
Throughout the novel, the narrator struggles with being a wife, mother, daughter-in-law, yet still has to be herself. She tries to find that perfect balance of working, living, and being present. These are all issues that parents have and Lurie is able to portray that perfectly on the page. How do you remain yourself when you have someone relying on you? How do you keep sane when the world is crashing around you? How do you deal with the guilt of being a working mother? How do you keep your marriage alive when your child takes all of your time? Can you continue to give your all or do you eventually let go? What if you develop unhealthy coping mechanisms? Lurie looks at all of these questions, the struggles that every parent faces, and swirls them throughout the narrative. While never asked outright, Lurie still manages to bring these concerns to the forefront.
Each vignette is crafted with such precision that not a word is wasted or found wanting. Some sections are only a sentence long while, in others, Lurie uses an unconventional style that must be read as closely as one reads poetry or else you will miss something important. Museum of Stones does not follow the standard linear format of a novel, instead Lurie moves between time and space, using memories the narrator has to tell the story of the present and who she used to be to who she is now. Lurie is able to intermingle the past and the present in an innovative use of nonlinear prose that keeps us on edge. One moment in the NICU the next on a highway in Peru, the same one her son will eventually travel, the nameless narrator brings us along, seamlessly moving from the past to the present and back again with her careful use of prose that often reads like lyrical poetry.
Because the story unfolds in first-person, we are able to interact with the narrator’s world as she does. We feel her emotions and are swept away with her when it all becomes too much. We feel her helplessness and her frustration with the medical field. We are able to experience her fear that the doctors will “have no empathy left” in them to treat her son and listen to their concerns with her. We are also able to experience her strength in the face of her husband’s weakness. We are taken along on the narrator’s search for a doctor to help explain her own son to her, searching desperately for answers to unlock the mysteries of his mind. How can it be that she cannot understand her own son? What lengths will she go to in order to find out that information? Lurie shows the love and devotion that a mother can have for a child, one that can take everything the narrator has to give and then take even more.
In Museum of Stones, we are given an intimate and highly personal view of the chaotic, messy, over the top and full of love, day to day struggles that every mother has to contend with. Lurie draws us in with her clean and clear prose. For a subject that could be highly sentimental, Museum of Stones instead gives a rich and compelling story about a mother who is trying to live her best life for herself and ultimately her son. We are all a museum of stones, the narrator included, stones that “erode, chip and cleave, yet remain essentially the same.” This book is good for an audience who enjoys an unconventional narrative. One that flips from the past to the present and place to place in search of answers and understanding that can only be obtained through introspection and unlocking memories to see the bigger picture.
Museum of Stones, by Lynn Lurie. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: Etruscan Press, May 2019. 112 pages. $16.00, paper.
Christina Ghent is pursuing her MA in English at Winthrop University. She lives in York, South Carolina, with her husband and four children after having lived all over the world. She is working on honing her craft and is looking forward to where the next journey will take her.