Mark Harris
June 21, 1991 AT 04:00 AM EDT

In By Her Own Hand: Memoirs of a Suicide’s Daughter, Hammer’s reflections on her mother’s suicide are dedicated to her analyst, which seems fitting given the intensely introspective nature of her book. The author was 9 in 1950 when her mother took her own life. Her youth, coupled with the uncommunicativeness of her family, made reconstructing her mother’s story largely a matter of guesswork. Perhaps that’s why very little warmth clings to the portrait of her parents: ”My mother was desperate and cold; my father was demanding and cold.” She does some routine digging into her mother’s Norwegian roots but finds no answers there to the unanswerable ”Why?” To her credit, though, Hammer is an honest writer, and the chief strength of her book lies in the forthright chronicle of her recovery. That comeback took decades, and she clearly managed much of it alone. B

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