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Kate Mulgrew of ‘Orange is the New Black’ strikes right tone in memoir of struggles

Kate Mulgrew, who stars in “Orange is the New Black,” has written two memoirs. Her latest is “How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir.”
Kate Mulgrew, who stars in “Orange is the New Black,” has written two memoirs. Her latest is “How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir.”

I had grown used to being disappointed by celebrity audiobooks, but was captivated four years ago with “Born with Teeth” (HarperCollins/HarperAudio). The author and narrator of the audiobook was Kate Mulgrew, who played Capt. Janeaway on “Star Trek” and now stars on Netflix’s seventh and final season of “Orange is the New Black” as Red.

OK, so she does have a long career of acting that bodes well for narration, but I didn’t expect her excellent writing. I was gripped by her memoir about growing up in the Midwest in a large Catholic family with eccentric parents. At the end of the book, there were loose ends — a marriage to come, and her adored mother’s confusion that warned of deeper issues.

“How could she leave me dangling?” I remember asking myself. Mulgrew said there might be a sequel, and I’ve been waiting ever since.

Kate Mulgrew How to Forget.jpg
“How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir” by Kate Mulgrew

How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir” (HarperCollins/HarperAudio) finally was released last month, and Mulgrew narrates her book again. Her rich, deep, resonant voice remembers the death of both her parents — her father’s quick end with cancer and the longer torture her family faced with her mother’s Alzheimer’s.

As in her first audio, Mulgrew’s eloquence of oral and written expression strike the right emotional tones. Her enactments make vivid scenes and portrayals create memorable characters. Mulgrew takes care to give enough backstory to bring even minor characters to life.

There is the tenderness of Lucy, for example, who once was a nurse for Mulgrew’s children and, with equal sensitivity, cares for her mother. We come to know Lucy’s early life, the joy of her reuniting, and marriage with her first love. These are not detours but woven into the whole story, coloring characters, relationships and actions.

Both writing and reading must have been a daunting task. The memoir goes back and forth in time from the premature death of her sister at 12 years old to her parents’ deaths. Honest in her first memoir, the second has even more depth. In an interview about the book on Facebook Live, Mulgrew said she was “determined to go to a different level.” She answers other questions about recording and writing with equal thoughtfulness and candor.

Mulgrew doesn’t hold back. She recounts her mother’s demeaning moments, her father’s caustic responses, the divisions in her parents’ marriage and the torment of their adult children. Her observations show an excellent eye for detail, and Mulgrew goes a step further with her wise and unflinching interpretations of others and herself. These seem especially poignant as she knowingly fills her vacant mother’s smallest actions with her own hopes, wishes and imaginings.

There is care in Mulgrew’s choice of words. Each seems carefully chosen for clarity, truth, exactness in meaning, emotive power and poignancy of sound. Her deep and honest recounting about loss, betrayal, anger and hurt will speak to listeners who have been through similar experiences. Mulgrew remembers, for example, how she and her siblings felt after their parents’ deaths. “We fought for life to continue. We fought to be known in a new way as siblings without parents. It was a swift and terrible tide to swim against.”

Susie Wilde is a Chapel Hill-based writer. She can be reached through her website ignitingwriting.com.
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