Obama's is not the old-fashioned, Clintonesque story of the small town kid who made good, nor is he that other old-fashioned tale, of the young lion from a Kennedy or Bush political dynasty. He is a new — and increasingly more common — 21st-century boy. The knee-jerk disdain so many of his critics have for him can be traced largely to his worldliness: He's a man who, of necessity, was brought up not to be Joe the Plumber but a citizen of the planet. Obama's mother, who died in 1995, has been, up to this point, largely a shadowy figure in his narrative. She's been portrayed as a quiet girl swept up in an exotic life, a woman who made the seemingly unthinkable choice to send her 10-year-old son far away to live with his grandparents so he could get a better education. Yet Scott's account reveals her as another kind of familiar American archetype: She's the girl who ran away. Every town has one — the one whose personality and curiosity are too big to stay in one place, who eternally fascinates everyone she left behind.
Dunham was the smart girl who sacrificed for her family but who stayed true to her own ambitions, who married the men she loved even when cultural taboos stacked the deck against them. She went to school and made a career for herself, making her a powerful example of how strong, working mothers can raise strong men. She told her daughter “not to be such a wimp.” And though she surely had pains and regrets, she told her son, “If nothing else, I gave you an interesting life.” Clearly, it often wasn't easy, for either Dunham or her son. But Scott's narrative shows that an interesting life is a priceless thing. It's not just one of the greatest gifts a mother can offer her child — it's one of the best she can hope for herself.