I am a writer, artist, and homeschooling mom. Here you will find musings on life, readings, and a relationship with God. To add a RSS feed to this blog, go to http://feeds.feedburner.com/SpiritualWoman
When I was in college, a favorite professor offered a literature
class called “Mothers and Daughters.” As I read The Painted Table by Suzanne Field, I couldn’t help but think that
this book would make an excellent addition to that class syllabus.
Mother/daughter relationships are always complex. Add in the specter of mental
illness and the strain can become unbearable. Such relationships are at the
core of The Painted Table.
When the story begins, Joann is a seven-year-old girl living
in North Dakota. While her siblings believe their mother, Clara, died as a
result of childbirth, Joann discovers the truth – that their mother died in a
hospital for the mentally ill.
Joann ultimately leaves home and builds a new life with her
husband, Nels. They have two daughters, Sapphire (Saffee) and April. The story
from that point on is told from both Joann and Saffee’s perspective. Joann struggles
with her demons and Saffee tries her hardest to survive and distance herself
from her mother as much as possible. Her greatest fear is that she will end up
just like her.
In addition, Field explores the theme of objects in our
lives and the meaning and weight that they can carry. The Painted Table referred to in the title was
originally made in 1858 in Norway and later traveled to America.Joann would hide under it as a little girl.
In many ways, it became her safe zone. Yet, it also carried horrible memories.
When her older sister dies and the table makes its way to Joann, she is
determined to exorcise its hold over her by covering it with paint over and
For Saffee, the table holds nothing but horror, yet, she,
too, ultimately ends up its owner. Can she break free of the table’s legacy and
all it represents?
The Painted Table is a series of short vignettes in the
lives of these two women, which cover a great deal of chronological time. The
story is strongest in the latter half of the book when Saffee is an adult. It’s
definitely worth sticking with the story to get to that point. The Painted
Table offers much to think about and discuss, especially for those who have
experienced mental illness in their families. It would make a great book club
read; there is a short reading group guide included in the book for exactly