“Mama’s Boy: A Story from Our Americas” (Knopf), by Dustin Lance Black
Dustin Lance Black’s new memoir hooks readers right off the bat by describing the moment his beloved mother might die.
The beginning of “Mama’s Boy: A Story from Our Americas” opens with Black sitting in the back seat of a taxi, driving to the airport ahead of a flight to London. This is when Black gets a call from his stepfather, urging him to come back home. Black’s mother, a survivor of polio and currently battling cancer, had just collapsed.
This memoir, however, is more than a recounting of a deep parent-child bond.
The book is about Black’s roots and the unexpected way his life unfolded. He’s a well-known gay rights activist who helped overturn Proposition 8 in California and writer of the Oscar-winning blockbuster film “Milk,” a 2008 biographical movie on Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay politician.
Black’s mother Anne was a conservative Southern lady, a military wife and devout Mormon. Black, who was so shy he had trouble making friends, recognized he was gay when he was 6. This would have never gone over in his household, where even things like alcohol and soda were considered ungodly. And so Black hid this secret for years — until he was in film school at UCLA.
“To outsiders, in this day and age, my mom and I should have been enemies,” Black writes. “Our house should have been divided — North vs. South, red vs. blue, conservative vs. progressive … Instead we fueled each other.”
Anne taught her boys allegiance to each other and their family. She taught them to be fighters for ideas they hold deeply.
“Mama’s Boy” is a fast read with witty observations, and all the emotions to go along.
A devastating case of childhood polio left Anne without use of her legs. Doctors said she’d never have children, to give up on that dream. Yet, she refused to listen and had three boys, who occupied the center of her life. There were surgeries endured, poverty that kept the family without many resources, and two abusive husbands. Black’s father abandoned the family when the boys were little.
“Mama’s Boy” is testament to the powerful impact a good parent has on children. One good, supportive parent can be a child’s foundation in the face of trauma, turmoil and change.
And with all the news surrounding the college cheating scandal, Black and “Mama’s Boy” show just how far the unlikeliest of children can go with pure, unabashed grit.