Thursday, September 28, 2017

Book 96: The Mothers

"Anna was fifty-eight, a wife and mother, a stalwart of the community. She had built a solid life. But that wasn't all of her. I'm not one person, Anna thought, none of us is. All the secret feelings I've kept inside- they are all the different people I am."

Dates read: October 8-10, 2016

Rating: 4/10

There are few things in the world that are as simultaneously alluring and terrifying as motherhood. For me personally, I am both on the one hand wanting to be a mom and raise children and watch them grow up, and on the other completely overwhelmed at the thought of the expense, and the responsibility, and the idea that I might get it wrong. Maybe I'm being naive, but I imagine many other women feel the same way. Some of them go on to have kids, some don't, and there's something anti-feminist about it, but it seems undeniable that wrestling with the decision whether or not to have children is fundamental to a female experience of the world.

Rod Jones' The Mothers is set in Australia over the course of several generations. It begins with Alma, who gets pregnant young and rushes into marriage with a man she barely knows. By the time their second child is a toddler, the couple is estranged, and when her husband brings home his paramour, Alma flees. She has nowhere to go, but is taken in by a young man about her age and his mother, who he still lives with. The two eventually conceive a child of their own, but he doesn't want to marry her and cuts off his support of their daughter, Molly, abruptly during her youth. Broke and desperate, Alma sends Molly to live in an orphanage for a time, but eventually reclaims her...and her father makes a surprise reappearance in her life. Molly grows up and makes a good marriage of her own, but finds herself unable to get pregnant.

Meanwhile, Anna is a teenage mother sent a religious home for unwed mothers, where she is convinced to give up her baby son for adoption despite her desperate desire to keep him. That son is adopted by Molly and named David, and spoiled as Molly tries to work through her own complicated childhood legacy. David, in turn, grows up to get his girlfriend Caroline pregnant, and even though he stays with her, he doesn't exactly do right by her. When David's older and has established his family, he wants to meet his birth mother, and she has complicated feelings about a reunion.

This book is hard to write about because there's not a lot there. The themes he riffs on, of the difficult choices women have to make around motherhood and the way mothers raise their children playing out in how they deal with their own parenthood, aren't new, and he doesn't do anything special with them. It does strike me as strange that this book was written by a man...the emotional costs of motherhood seem like a topic much more germane to a female experience. Not that it's written poorly or with a hamhanded treatment of the's fine if completely unremarkable, for the most part, but it made me wonder about Jones' own feelings about his mother. Was he raised in an environment where he became particularly empathetic towards women's stories, or does he have a more complicated relationship with mother figures in his life that he's trying to work out? Psych 101-ing someone based on one piece of writing is a completely futile endeavor, but his subject and treatment of it are unusual enough that it elicits the question, anyway. 

Tell me, blog you think our childhood relationship with our parents resonates throughout our lives?

One year ago, I was reading: The Circle


  1. Oh my gosh - this threw me for a loop! I kept thinking of Brit Bennett's The Mothers...different book entirely!

  2. I have a copy of the other The Mothers that I'm really looking forward to, because it's supposed to be better than this one!