Readers of Jockey Daughter might well expect horses and racetracks to be the focus of this memoir. But while jockeys and trainers do drop by the Coopers’ suburban Maryland home, they are footnotes in a larger story about the author’s abusive childhood.
Tracey Cooper’s father is a jockey, but it’s her abusive mother who is the architect of Tracey’s life. For her and her six siblings, daily beatings by this diminutive woman are doled out for minor infractions or no reason at all. Her weapons are whatever’s handy: wooden spoons, horse whips, shoes, batons, forks, potato mashers.
Fearing reprisals, they try to keep the abuse secret. Their bruises, however, aren’t lost on friends and relatives – including their often-absent father – but none takes action for fear of being banished from the children’s lives. (The story takes place during the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, when child abuse was less discussed and intervention less common.)
Their controlling, perfectionist mother shows a different face to the outside world. At church services she presents seven well-behaved, sparkling-clean children to admiring parishioners. A “bright woman with immense organizational skills,” she volunteers at the Catholic school her kids attend. That do-gooder image helps keep her parenting methods safe from scrutiny.
Readers may wonder: Why doesn’t Cooper feel anger toward her father? Why does the grown-up Cooper keep trying to win over a mother she wishes were dead? These questions are never answered, and some readers may wish for more information.
Still, Jockey Daughter is an engrossing, heartbreaking story. Cooper’s anger and vulnerability practically jump off the pages, never more so than during the first beating. “I cried out in hopeless pleas. ‘Stop, please stop. Don’t kill me. … ’ It hurt. I could not get free of the monster’s grasp on my left arm. …The monster was identifiable. The monster was my mother.”
Overall, Cooper offers a compelling narrative, one that will engage readers interested in well-written memoirs about difficult childhoods.
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