Alan Vanneman has a thoughtful survey of reviews of Janny Scott's new biography of Ann Dunham, A Singular Woman The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother. Snippets:
When Ann Dunham was dying of ovarian cancer in Honolulu, Barack Obama, "preoccupied with legal work and his newly published book" (as [reviewer Jacob] Weisberg tells it), failed to make the trip from New York to visit her.
One suspects that Barack wrote Dreams from My Father about his father precisely because he didn't know him. Barack Sr. was smart; he left early, so that his son could imagine him as the sort of dad he should have had but didn't. Barack couldn't do that with Ann; she wasn't around very much, but she was around enough for Barack to remember that she didn't seem to care about him very much at all….
Obama referred to himself as his mother's "experiment," suggesting that she was more in love with the idea of having a child by a black man than she was in love with the child she actually produced. Obama obviously didn't care very much about being an experiment, but somehow he found the wit to survive it. Now if only he would get out of Afghanistan, cut the defense budget in half, restore our civil liberties, abandon the Bush/Obama "I am above the law" concept of the presidency, and stop talking about high-speed rail and "green" jobs, everything would be OK.
I always found it odd that Obama's mother was so absent from her son's autobiography, but this certainly helps to explain it. I tend to think that children identify with the parent they are least like as a way of asserting psychic independence from the bigger influence on them.
I'm not a fan of psychoanalyzing pols from a distance—not only is it almost always inaccurate, it's typically a cheap way to score partisan points under the guise of impartiality. (See, in very different contexts, the attempts to paint Barry Goldwater as certifiably insane and Obama as the seething son of a post-colonial Kenyan radical.) And it's not clear that who someone was in their teens or twenties tells you much about their policy prescriptions in their elected life. But Scott's book sounds interesting for the story it tells of a woman who left what must have been a stultifying existence in late '50s and early '60s America for a life that might not have been much more fulfilling.