A Mother’s Story

A MOTHER’S STORY initially seems more a bittersweet tale of a mother than the resolution of the death of a son. Gloria Vanderbilt, her life a mingling of wealth and notoriety with painful loss, recounts the effect of the death of her father when she was an infant and that of her husband at age fifty. She imagines a protective “glass bubble” which she inhabits and from which she struggles to emerge. The unfolding story opens a small window to her own frayed childhood and to the dysfunctional dynamics of the family of her son’s father, Wyatt Cooper. It provides the light through which we are able to see the central drama of the book.

Life deals Vanderbilt an almost irreparable blow with the death at twenty-five of her son, Carter. That he is child both of promise and of pain is evident in gentle anecdotes about times at the beach or heart surgery early in his life. Helpless and frozen in horror, the mother witnesses her son’s fatal fall from the fourteenth floor of her apartment. The book rehearses the moment by moment details of both the event and the author’s painstaking attempts to explain its etiology.

In the end the accounts of family dynamics, snippets of diary entries from happier times, and a poem written by Carter come together to provide a poignant remembrance. While Vanderbilt’s major personal metaphor, the glass bubble, sometimes distracts the reader who must struggle to understand what the author is trying to capture by it, the power of the story of grief and healing is not lost. The slim volume, tenderly written and beautifully rendered in type and format, offers the reader insight into the inner life, tragedy, and eventual transformation of a very ordinary mother.