Sunday, May 7, 2017

Book review: The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

I wanted to read this book for a long time, but as a new mother myself, I tried to keep myself mentally safe from any eventual literary journey into motherhood, which I might be not so keen to gulp. Fortunately, my fears were ridiculous as The Mothers is a good story about coming-of-age and the search for meaning.
The story is placed in Oceanside, a black conservative Christian community in California. The charming non-conformist 17 yo Nadia is searching for a meaning behind her mother suicide developing little by little into a better version of her: finished college and glamorous jobs and trips abroad. However, the feeling of emptiness remains and not even her sexual experiences with the son of the local pastor, Luke, a relationship that will continue late in her age, even with the price of betraying her God-fearing friend Aubrey, who married him. 
The 'what ifs' surrounding her mother's mysterious decision to take her life are amplified by Nadia's own decision to make an abortion while into an early pregnancy following her relationship with Luke. Can the past be avoided? Can the present be completely separated from the shadows of things that were not allowed to happen?
Most paragraphs of the book are an opportunity for lyrical introspection, which makes the book more than an average coming-of-age novel. This delicate investigation creates an interesting framework for the novel. 
Interestingly, the interrogations of the 'what ifs' are also part of the male characters, with Luke trying to often figure out what would have been if his mother would not have provide him the money for the abortion - the term used 'unpregnant' is an archaism suggesting a situation that was de-created. Therefore, the points of view on motherhood raised by women is modestly balanced by that of a potential father mourning the unborn child.
I particularly loved how the pieces of the story are sewed together creating an authentic story where you can actually see with literary eyes each of the members of the small Oceanside community. The ending is unexpected and elegant, but I felt that somehow the story could continue for another couple of pages. 
As for the mothers 'maybe mothers were inherently vast and unknowable'.

Rating: 4 stars

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