Contemporary U.S. Literature

The Mothers

March 14, 2018

This was one of the best novels I’ve read in a very long time. I thought it would be about women struggling with infertility (provenance of mistaken belief: a half-listened to review on NPR?), but it’s not, really. It actually starts with a teenager dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Not just an un-mother: an anti-mother. The “mothers” of the title are observant, opinionated, vocal Church Mothers at Upper Room, a thriving church in a San Diego community. I loved that this was set in southern California, because that’s where I grew up, and I could relate to many of the landscape and cultural descriptions. I realized, while listening to this book, how rarely this occurs, a novel set in a place that I can really put myself into–the last time this happened was with the Seattle descriptions in Where’d You Go Bernadette? (also HIGHLY recommended).

There are two teenage girls in this story, both of whom have lost their mothers for different traumatizing reasons, and their longing for a mother yields some of the novel’s most beautiful meditations on mothers. One, mid-way through, is (to paraphrase) about how mothers are always inherently unknowable. The second, towards the end, is (to paraphrase poorly) an image of a mother and daughter as two flints rubbing against each other until the spark generated sends the daughter spinning. I want to recommend this to my neighborhood book club, but there is a lot of swearing in it, and those ladies are basically the white middle-class version of Church Mothers…

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