Sunday, June 17, 2018

Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew

Like many others, I was interested in this memoir because I fell in love with her Star Trek: Voyager character, Kathryn Janeway. It was such an important show for me as a kid because I've always been interested in fantasy and science-fiction, but until fairly recently, all of the main characters were men. I used to write fan-fiction gender-swapping the leads, giving myself a female version of my favorite series that I could aspire to be. Kathryn Janeway was that gender-swapped fanfiction come to life, a female starship captain who balanced tenderness with firm command, and had the respect of her entire crew without having to resort to bullying.

BORN WITH TEETH is a great memoir and really shows the person behind the role. Often, celebrity memoirs tend to be very positive, following a rigid formula: the early childhood, the career awakening, and then their big break. Mulgrew, surprisingly, veers from this formula in her memoir, which is very personal. She shares a number of tragic experiences, such as her sister's terminal disease, her mother's incredibly odd (and possibly mentally ill) behavior, miscarriage, abortion, rape, reconnecting with her biological daughter, struggling to balance work life with family life (and still being found wanting at times, no matter how much effort she poured in), and of course, her romantic relationships with several men, none of them perfect human beings, but some better than others.

There were definitely slower moments in this memoir, and I would have liked more behind-the-scenes tidbits about her work (what was it like working with young Pierce Brosnan back in the day? What were some of the best and worst parts about working on the popular Star Trek franchise? Carrie Fisher's memoir had some very interesting insights in her memoir on the double-standards of Leia's portrayal, as well as some horrible/funny stories about people behaving badly at conventions). Sometimes hearing about her personal relationships was a bit tedious, as they do have a slightly privileged air to them as Mulgrew casually relates her obvious wealth.

Still, she also brings up a lot of interesting points about how difficult it is for women to work in this business, and how men are not held to the same exacting standards (particularly where work-life balance is concerned). She acknowledges the many wonderful people who helped build her up, but she isn't as gracious as some of the other female celebrities whose memoirs I have read; she owns her work, chalking it up to hard work, honesty, and persistence. You can see a lot of Janeway peering through this memoir - that grit, vulnerability, and toughness - and that made this book especially interesting for me, to see how much of herself she brought to her role on Star Trek.

If you're an Orange Is the New Black fan, you might be disappointed, because she doesn't mention her work there at all. The Star Trek chapter is one of the last chapters, and the book ends with her being reunited with the big flame of her life. It's an odd ending, particularly since the book opened so strongly with a very vivid and lyrical description of her unconventional upbringing.

Regardless of its flaws, however, I really did appreciate the honesty of this memoir and the beautiful way it was written. It made me like Kate Mulgrew more than I already did, because she always struck me as a bit of a mystery. I find it inspiring to find out how much actresses do to accomplish their dreams, particularly when they don't apologize for succeeding.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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