The Bookworm: Unraveling a mystery; modern motherhood
“An Unexplained Death”
- By Mikita Brottman
- c. 2018, Henry Holt
- $28, $36.50 Canada; 273 pages
Missing. That single word belies the deep panic and fear behind the reason for the poster it’s on. Someone's gone, not where he should be, and his family believes something’s wrong. They’re terrified because at some time in the ensuing days, as the poster falls to the elements and as you’ll read in “An Unexplained Death” by Mikita Brottman, missing can become mystery.
In the early evening of May 16, 2006, Rey Rivera left his Baltimore home in a hurry, taking his wife’s car. He’d received what’s presumed to be a work-related phone call minutes before he left, but investigators still don’t know who called him.
No one was ever able to ask because, days later, Rivera was found dead in Baltimore ’s Belvedere Hotel. He’d fallen through the roof into an abandoned office that had been a swimming pool in the Belvedere’s early years; but was now covered-over. The medical examiner said he hit the floor of the empty office, feet-first.
Mikita Brottman lived on the fifth floor of the grand old hotel-cum-condominium, and she was immediately captivated by Rivera’s passing. She admits that she’s always been fascinated in the “dark side,” in an X-Files sort of way, and death is of particular interest because of its unknowability. She admits that she’s tried all her life to experience the paranormal. She began digging deeper into what had become a mystery.
Rivera was a tall athletic man, an immediately likeable kind of guy. He had a bit of a temper as a youth and was said to be impulsive with money, but his life seemed to be going well. Friends refused to believe that he killed himself.
Though she’d never met Rivera, Brottman believed likewise but the more she learned, the odder the evidence. Rivera had just left a job that made him unhappy, for reasons that Brottman suggests were “tangled.” Details were forgotten, various players refused to speak with her, and documents were “lost.” And person after person after person warned Brottman to “be careful”…
“An Unexplained Death” is the kind of book that’s perfect for the person who poked at road-kill as a child. It’s for the former kid who half-bravely half-thought about stumbling across a body in the woods someday, or who happily slept in a cemetery on Halloween. It’s creepy, and it’s very, very good.
In her story, and that of Rey Rivera, author Mikita Brottman makes readers squirm. Not only do we learn a lot of shivery things about missing persons, but she also tells more about suicides, autopsies, and dead bodies than most true crime books would ever dare tell. Put it in a century-old hotel that’s seen its share of unsettling suicides, and you have a book that will make you cringe, check the locks, and read some more.
Beware that this is not for anyone prone to nightmares. True crime fans may not like the personal injected into the process. But if you love a mystery that’ll leave you unnerved and twisting, “An Unexplained Death” should not be missed.
“Forget ‘Having It All: How America Messed Up Motherhood – and How to Fix It' ”
- By Amy Westervelt
- c. 2018, Seal Press
- $27, $35 Canada; 309 pages
First shift begins in early morning. You hit work then, and run all day for that weekly paycheck. Second shift starts the minute you pick up the kids and arrive home to run all evening until you fall into bed. Is this the way you wanted things to be or, after reading the new book “Forget ‘Having It All’” by Amy Westervelt, do you actually have too much?
With two young children and a solid journalism career, Amy Westervelt is busy. She’s sometimes overloaded, which makes her think about motherhood in America versus motherhood elsewhere. Overseas, mothers get more support; here, not always so much. But to understand “why … motherhood in America kinda suck[s]” we first must know its history.
Says Westervelt , America “was colonized by people who believed … in the power of self,” and that “led to both greatness and depravity.” It also led to a patriarchal society in which women “were seen as responsible for the moral character of their children” but men controlled white women’s lives, inheritances, childbirth, birth control, and most childcare decisions. Conversely, Black and Native American women generally reared their children communally – which, as it happens, is an ancient method and the way many societies raise their kids today.
Modern mothers may enjoy more help from their spouses than their foremothers got but motherhood is still rather complicated. Women are criticized for “helicopter” mothering, and for giving their kids more freedom. They’re made to feel guilt for working, and for missing work when needed. They may be denied birth control but are given little-to-no governmental or societal support when they have children. Mothers of color, single mothers, and lesbian parents have these issues, and more.
Says Westervelt, solutions start with demands for improved maternity leave, and for government-supported daycare. We should encourage boys to be nurturing. Passing the ERA would help, as would allowing better access to birth control. Finally, we need to stop shaming the choices women make, and “expand our notions of family to … go beyond the nuclear family.”
While it’s true that a minute of browsing may tempt you to dismiss this book as just another feminist rant, hold up. Yes, author Amy Westervelt admits to both ranting and feminism and yes, there’s anger here. Still, “Forget ‘Having It All’” deserves a good second look.
If nothing but for the history, this book will open eyes. You may think you know how your foremothers tried to raise families without losing identities, but Westervelt lays it bare again. You may think we’ve transcended old issues, but she shows how we’ve only re-arranged them. And you might think the grass is greener elsewhere, but she’s inclusive here: childless women and same-sex mothers don’t get off easy in today’s “messed up motherhood.”
No doubt, this book is loaded with controversy, but it’s equally loaded with solutions. It’s one of those kinds of books that will make you want to take copious notes. If you’re so inclined, “Forget ‘Having It All’” may also be a book that shifts your thinking.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.