Contemporary Literature

The Mothers

I picked this up during a Book Outlet sale sometime last year, having seen it around with lots of positive reviews on bookstagram. Although the hype has sort of died down, since it’s now going on three years post-publication, I am firmly on the better late than never train (as per usual). And, in light of the recent attacks on women’s rights over their own bodies in Alabama and Georgia (and, really, across the US), the topics covered are even more salient and important.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

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After secretly dating for months, Nadia Turner and Luke Sheppard find out they are pregnant. Nadia is a high school senior, mourning after her mother’s suicide. Luke is a few years older, working in a local restaurant after an injury ended his football career, and the pastor’s son. Nadia’s decision to get an abortion, and the following cover up, is a decision that will follow her and Luke for years. And, even worse, the consequences will spread, over the years, affecting not only Luke and Nadia, but also Nadia’s best friend, Audrey, and, in the end, their entire community.

“Suffering pain is what makes you a woman. Most of the milestones in a woman’s life were accompanied by pain…”

This was a provocative, exploratory novel. Topically, abortion is an incredibly sensitive topic in the United States, especially in religious communities, like the one in focus in this novel. As an added layer, the focus was even more specific into faith-based black culture in America, with all the nuances inherent there. So, while this may be an uncomfortable story for many living within these types of religious and/or black communities to read, it is also that much more important as a result. To that end, I appreciated the breadth of perspective with which the topic was covered – each person that was involved in the decision and act of the abortion itself reacted in different ways, some expected and some surprising (which was another aspect that I really liked – giving some stereotypes a real flip), to really give a full picture of the consequences. There is no easy answer, no “right” response, and, even when the best possible decision is made, the after-affects can still be painful and far-reaching. Relatedly, the way that relationships between people were written was, in my opinion, the highlight of this novel. Nadia and Aubrey’s friendship with each other, both girls’ interactions with Luke and the way they grew/changed, Nadia and her father, as well as both Nadia and Aubrey’s internal struggles with their respective mothers’ ghosts…they were all fully and poignantly developed. The one other thing that I really liked about this novel was the way that is so expertly portrayed how every person thinks (assumes) that others have their lives more together, are more successful/desirable. Both Nadia and Aubrey felt this way about each other. And even after learning everything about the other, and understanding the other’s pain/loss, they still vacillated between feeling sorry for the other and being (for lack of a better word) jealous of what they felt the other had that they might never have themselves. It was fascinating and felt so recognizably real.

“Every heart is fractured differently…”

The writing itself was interesting. The pacing was slower than one might expect for this kind of domestic drama, but that was partially due to the previously mentioned depth of relationship development, so those aspects balanced out in a nice way. There was, however, one stylistic point that just didn’t sit right with me. And, unfortunately, it was a big one: the titular mothers. Every section/chapter began with a sort of chorus, from the voice of the old ladies of the church community. It was all very fore-shadowy and all-knowing, as far as tone, and, for me, just hit weirdly. I wasn’t into their voice and, really, I felt like the story was strong enough without them. They felt almost like an afterthought, or a framing device that the author really wanted to use and therefore sort of forced to fit. I mean, I understand, from the point of view that so much of this story was about different forms of motherhood: Aubrey’s mother’s inability to protect her, Aubrey’s sister’s stand in parenting, Nadia’s mother’s abandonment of her, both sides of a teen mother’s options (Nadia’s mother having her and Nadia’s decision to abort), Aubrey’s struggles to get pregnant, Luke’s mother’s actions to protect him…motherhood truly was the binding theme of this novel. But just…those old lady voices seemed discordant to the rest of the story-telling in a way I couldn’t get over. And since they were so consistently sprinkled throughout, it really affected my overall experience with reading this novel.

“…magic you wanted was a miracle, magic you didn’t want was a haunting.”

Altogether though, this was an emotional, tender, balanced and discerning first novel. I enjoyed reading it, was invested in the characters’ decisions and experiences, and truly felt like I learned about a community that I have absolutely no personal experience with…and isn’t that why we read?

4 thoughts on “The Mothers

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