Sunday, July 23, 2017

Book Review: The Mothers

This was another book I probably wouldn't have picked up if it hadn't been a book club selection, merely because I hadn't heard the buzz about the book. Yet, the book has plenty of buzz, having earned numerous awards (New York Times Bestseller, NBCC John Leonard First Novel Prize Finalist, PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction Finalist, New York Public Library Young Lions Award Finalist, An NPR Best Book of 2016, Entertainment Weekly Best Book of 2016, Vogue Magazine Best Book of the Year, Goodreads Choice Award Finalist, and's Best Books of the Year). As a debut novel, I believe Brit Bennett did an outstanding job.

The Mothers tells the story of seventeen-year-old Nadia Turner, whose mother inexplicably commits suicide. Six months later, Nadia discovers she is pregnant. The father of the child is the pastor's son, Luke. Even while dating, Luke had kept their relationship a secret, and when Nadia expresses a desire to simply be rid of the problem, Luke comes up with the money for the abortion. Nadia assumes this means he agrees with her decision to end the pregnancy. The novel weaves back and forth highlighting the ramifications and consequences.

I appreciated the depth of exploration into ideas of motherhood. Moreover, I agreed with author Danielle Evans, who declared the book "a brilliant exploration of friendship, desire, inheritance, the love we seek, and the love we settle for. It is the kind of book that from its first page seduces you into knowing that the heartbreak coming will be worth it."Although I didn't feel the heartbreak was worth it, primarily due to the way the story ended without hope, I do think the book tapped into many important truths about life and love. It presented a fair picture of the emotional turmoil surrounding the difficult scenario of abortion.

I loved the keen observations about grief. For example, "Grief was not a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip." (p. 57) "But she hasn't learned the mathematics of grief. The weight of what has been lost is always heavier than what remains." (p. 226) Another delicious sentence about secrets: "All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season."

While I admired the use of the mothers of the church, in the form of a Greek chorus telling the story, I'm not sure it was executed effectively. For the most part, if felt like the narration perspective centered on Nadia, rather than the mothers. I kept expecting a big reveal at the end, which would explain why the story seemed to be filtered through the eyes of these observing women. Yet, the end didn't follow through with an explanation for their involvement. Indeed, the end sort of tapered off and Nadia failed to really grow or learn from her experiences. I would have liked to have seen more redemption and character development.

Nonetheless, I felt the novel succeeded in revealing deep truths. I remained riveted, wanting to know how the story resolved. In the end, there was much to think about, in terms of ideas about motherhood, love and loss, choice and consequences. How different Nadia's story would have been had her mother chosen a different path. How different the unborn baby's life if Nadia had placed his/her needs above her own. Even how different the story might have gone had the church mothers stepped into Nadia's life in a more significant way than merely as detached observers.

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