Going Down Swinging by Billie Livingston
Late Spring Reads series.
Going Down Swinging is the story of Eileen and Grace. Eileen is an educated single mother in the early 1970s trying to raise her young child Grace the best she can. She also has a teenage daughter, Charlotte, from her first husband. Like many other women, Eileen has her share of issues and has not made the best choices in men. The single-parent family survives precariously, while Eileen allays her fears with an increased reliance on alcohol and pills. Fearing for Grace's welfare, Charlotte reports her mother to Child Services.
Many of the key narrative elements in this novel are revealed through reports filed by the various social workers who follow Eileen and Grace from Toronto to Vancouver. Eileen's addiction eventually gets out of hand, and Grace is placed in a foster home.
Although this may sound grim, the beauty of this book is the unconditional love between Eileen and Grace. The early 70s were difficult times for single mothers, particularly those without any support from their families or ex-husbands. What's more, women in that decade earned very little in relation to men, and the work they did find involved long exhausting hours.
Yes, I sympathized with Eileen in spite of her many shortcomings, addiction being just one of them. I spoke to author Billie Livingston about Eileen, and she said that many readers wrote to her to say that she should have punished Eileen for her behaviour, while others like me sympathized with her. I tend to see addiction as an affliction of the self-loathing and a punishment in itself. Besides, Eileen feels plenty of pain when she goes through rehab in order to get Grace back. But will she get Grace back? Or will she continue to go down swinging?
This gripping read with all its dead-on 70s cultural references was Billie Livingston's first novel. I loved this book, and if you've read it, I'd love to know what you think of Eileen.
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