The Many Lives of Mama Love: A Memoir of Lying, Stealing, Writing, and Healing by Lara Love Hardin
Published by Simon & Schuster
Genres: Book Clubs, Non-fiction, Crime, Memoir, Vacation Reading
It’s a picture-perfect Saturday in Northern California with soccer parents lining the field and watching their kids play. As the game winds down most mothers go to retrieve their young, but Lara Love hangs back. And surreptitiously lifts cash out of a wallet in one of the handbags left behind in the stands. She moves onto the next before joining her friends and her children. Sound like the attention-grabbing opening to a movie? Maybe so, but it’s actually one of the many hard-to-believe true scenes in Lara Love Hardin’s memoir, The Many Lives of Mama Love.
Hardin is living in a beautiful home, happily married to her second husband, and the mother to six children in their blended family. On the surface life is shiny, but underneath both Hardin and her husband are grubby from days spent grifting and stealing in any way they can to support their heroin habit. Which works until it doesn’t and they find their three-year-old son taken by CPS while they await trial on multiple felony theft charges.
This is the beginning of Hardin’s voyage through the criminal justice system. She’s remanded to jail and quickly has to acclimate to a whole new way of life while also going through drug withdrawal unaided. She serves her time and gets out on parole, but here The Many Lives of Mama Love devolves into an almost sadistic house of mirrors. Hardin has to check in with a parole officer, go to mandated parenting classes to get her son back, get drug tested, get a job, and find a place to live. She has no money, no car, isn’t eligible for any social services, and she needs to divorce her husband who is still using but is financially supported by his mother.
What makes Mama Love stand out is the ease with which the reader is swept through a full range of emotions. Parts of her story elicit judgment and I fell prey to that, but as the pages passed and Hardin has done her time, detoxed, paid restitution to her victims, is following all of the court mandates imposed on her, and is still being penalized, the concept of justice is nowhere to be found. If a white, college educated, woman who’s served time for a non-violent crime can’t re-enter society what hope is there for any woman disadvantaged by her skin color, lack of education, and social or economic background? My judgment shifted to disbelief, frustration, and anger on her behalf.
An avid reader and writer, Hardin documents her life with an even hand that propels the reader through Mama Love. She probes the psychological aspects of her addiction and crimes without seeking pity. Through hard work, talent, and some fortuitous breaks Hardin manages to not only overcome her poor choices, but to go on to an astonishing level of professional success. Even then, she is hounded by guilt and shame, self-imposed and societally, until she’s able to reconcile her past with her present and find peace within herself. The Many Lives of Mama Love is extraordinary reading about an extraordinary woman.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.*