Growing up, Liz Scheier’s mother, Judith, insisted that all parties be held in their Upper West Side, rent-controlled apartment and nowhere else, because you simply couldn’t trust other people. At first, Scheier thought her schoolmates’ moms accompanied them to these parties because these women were friends with her mother. Only later did she understand that the women were there because they didn’t trust her mother, who frequently screamed at their children and raged at and battered her own daughter.
Even as Scheier began to doubt everything her mother said—Had her father really died in a car accident? How could the two of them afford to live in their apartment when Judith had no means of support? Was everything Judith said a lie?—she worshiped her mother. “I loved her smoky cackle and her jokes. . . . I loved that she adored me above everything else on earth,” she writes.
In her teens and 20s, Scheier tried to separate from her loving, controlling, raging, truth-shading mother. After college, during her first job in publishing, she learned that Judith had been concealing a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. This knowledge didn’t protect Scheier from her mother’s incessant, desperate phone calls, but it did force her onto a wobbly identity quest. Scheier tracked down information about her deceased father, with help from her first girlfriend’s aunt. She found jobs that took her away from New York. She drank to excess. She refused her mother’s calls. Still, when Judith was threatened with eviction, Scheier sold her eggs to a fertility clinic to pay back rent. Even after Scheier got married, moved to Washington, D.C., and had two children, there seemed to be no escape from her mother.
This is just the beginning of the tense and heart-rending story Scheier tells in Never Simple, her memoir of growing up with her ”petite, stylish, sardonic mother.” In relating this story, Scheier is sometimes as sardonic as her mother, as well as funny and frequently clever. (For example, she titles the chapter describing her hookup with the man who became her husband “Switching Teams.”) The narrative sometimes feels undercooked, but ultimately Never Simple writhes with the sorrow and guilt only a deep and complicated love can arouse.