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A decade ago, after my father had a stroke and was hospitalized a few blocks from me, my mother suggested that she might want to stay with me overnight. Since she lived all of half an hour away and we had been semi-estranged for years, I told her I thought that would not be a good idea. Dealing with each other, as well as our shared anxiety and grief, at close quarters seemed as though it would benefit neither of us.

The inciting event of Hafner’s book, her sixth, is her generous, if insufficiently considered, decision to invite her cantankerous, suddenly single 77-year-old mother, Helen, to live with her in San Francisco. Complicating this already dubious ménage is the presence of Hafner’s teenage daughter, Zoë, a sensitive soul who has never had much of a relationship with her grandmother.

“I was guided by a combination of love, protectiveness, and, as I would eventually come to see, magical thinking. I believed we were as close to the mother-daughter ideal as two women could be. We often spoke several times a day. I confided everything to her. I told myself I had long since put any lingering anger about my childhood behind me, that I had taken the ultimate high road. … With a transcendent eye, I can now see that it’s far easier to imagine a future we can invent than to reckon honestly with a painful past.” 

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