Three Great March Titles
By Ashley Audrain
I am usually not a person who likes psychological thrillers, but every once in a while, I will pick one up just to make sure my blood is still pumping. The Push, by Ashley Audrain, is a suspense thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat from the first page until the last.
How well do we know our children? As new mothers, we always worry about every little hiccup, cough, giggle, and cry. What does it mean? Is my child normal?
Blythe Connor, the mother in this novel is a woman who comes from a long line of terrible and dysfunctional mothers. Blythe is determined to change her fate, she is determined to be different. Blythe has everything she could ever ask for; a loving and adoring husband, a wonderful new extended family, a writing career, and soon a new baby. She desperately wants to be a good mother, yet from her first push in childbirth to meeting the newborn she feels that something is off. Is it her? Or is it the baby?
From the minute her baby Violet is born, she knows that she feels absolutely no connection to the child and doesn’t experience the regular bonding that most new mothers feel. She finds herself watching how other mothers behave and questioning her own mothering skills.
After an incident at Violet’s preschool when a child falls off the top of the slide to his death, Blythe knows that something is off with Violet. Because Blythe is the narrator of the novel and is telling the story to her husband Fox, you never hear anyone else’s version of events so you question Blythe’s perspective. With her family history you may also question Blythe’s sanity. Is she imagining things? Are Blythe’s suspicions about Violet real?
As Blythe’s paranoia about Violet grows, her marriage starts to disinegrate and everything that once brought her so much comfort causes her nothing but heartache. Blythe just can’t seem to get it right. And like all mothers, she second guesses everything she does.
Throughout the book, you go back and forth from believing Blythe is an amazing mom who is just trying to do her best to thinking maybe she is crazy in thinking that something is off with her daughter. But since you only see Blythe’s first-hand account, you are unsure of anything.
As a mother, what appealed to me about this book is the fact that, as mothers we all feel inadequate sometimes and we certainly all question our actions on a daily basis. Are we making the right decisions, are we giving our babies enough love, enough encouragement? Does being a good mother always require selflessness and unconditional love?
Please read The Push, and find out for yourself if Blythe’s cry out for help is warranted or if she is going down the same path as her mother and grandmother before her. Down the path of being a bad mother. The most important question you will ask yourself is, does maternal instinct truly exist?
By: Ashley Audrain
Publication Date: January 5, 2021
Pamela Dorman Books *****
By: Kirkland Hamill
If you were a fan of Father of The Rain, by Lily King, which I reviewed back in November, you will love this new memoir Filthy Beasts, written by Kirkland Hamill. This is the story of Hamill’s upbringing and growing up with an alcoholic mother.
Kirkland and his two brothers, Monty and Robin, grew up in upper class New York City social register society in the 1970’s and 1980’s. His father, Robert Hamill, comes from a long line of very wealthy Hamill’s who no longer have to work. They all live off their inherited money, and enjoy all that a wealthy lifestyle affords them. Vacations in Bermuda, a “camp” in the Adirondacks, brownstones in NYC, yachts, and country clubs. Their world “was pure white-Anglo-Saxon protestant, Mayflower-descendant, white-butler rich”. Up until elementary school, this is the only world that the Hamill boys understand.
While their father grew up with unlimited wealth, their mother Wendy, a Bermuda native, grew up on the wrong side of town and now that she has married into a wealthy family, she has no intentions of ever going back. Wendy meets Robert at a party in Bermuda while he and his friends are vacationing.
When the boys are in elementary school and Monty is just a toddler, their grandfather dies and the family suddenly learns that he spent all of their money. There is almost nothing left, so everything has to be sold. Their father had never finished college and had never had a job so there are very limited job prospects for him. He decides to buy a horse farm in upstate New York, where they can almost continue the illusion of wealth by being big fish in a much smaller pond. Robert moves their family and the boys and makes them leave their fancy private schools to attend the local public school. Wendy, who loved their life in NYC, is not happy and feels that her life has been stripped away from her. And that is when their troubles begin.
Their mother Wendy, is a beautiful, dynamic, and really fun mom. She runs into their rooms every morning shouting “wake up you filthy beasts!" and "it's time to face the beauty of a brand new day"to get them up for school. However, for as sunny as she always seemed, little by little, the life in upstate New York eats away at her happiness as she starts to fall apart. Eventually she leaves their father.
Because of money being tight, Wendy decides to move the children back to her native island of Bermuda. Their father reluctantly buys them a house on the wrong side of the island and pays for their fancy private school but neglects to pay child support month after month. There are many days when there is barely any food for them to eat. They attend their fancy private school with pants that are too short and holes in their shirts.
Even though they have very little, their mother is 100% devoted to making their life on Bermuda as happy as can be. However, in order to forget her own misery, she starts drinking more and more until her social drinking soon becomes an issue. When the boys are in middle school and high school she meets a wealthy man and eventually moves in with him, leaving the boys to completely fend for themselves. Her new boyfriend soon to be husband, is serious alcoholic, and so their mother’s drinking, which at one time was just a nighttime activity, soon becomes an all-day activity.
Kirkland eventually escapes to boarding school and college and tries to abandon the situation completely. He had always been very attached to his mother as he was the most sensitive son, who desperately needed her love and approval. But eventually it all becomes too much and he just can’t stay to watch her self-destruct. He spends his days grappling with the aftermath of his childhood and tries to overcome it all.
If you are a fan of David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, you will appreciate this memoir. While funny at times, it is also a sad tale of a very dysfunctional upbringing. Hamill’s writing style is easy to follow which makes this memoir hard to put down. We all have stories from our childhood, but this story goes well beyond anything most of us have experienced.
This is a fascinating story of wealth and privilege gone wrong. A powerful story of resilience and self-acceptance and the ability to overcome the demons of your childhood to become a somewhat functioning, well-adjusted adult.
By: Kirkland Hamill
Publication Date: July 14, 2020
Simon Schuster ****
By: Britt Bennett
It took me over 4 years to read this book. What finally convinced me to pick it up was my love for Bennett’s newest book, The Vanishing Half.
Bennett was 25 years old at the time of this book’s publication in 2016. The novel focuses on the lives of three African American teenagers dealing with their community’s expectations of them and their mistakes. The story takes place in Southern California and centers around The Upper Room Chapel which is where the teens all come to know each other.
Bennett starts out telling the story of Nadia, a 17-year old girl whose mother has killed herself six months earlier. Nadia is smart, beautiful, and wild. Since her mother took her own life Nadia has chosen to rebel because her father, who has disappeared in his own grief, has forgotten about her. She doesn’t know how to deal with the terrible loss of a mother that she thought she knew so well.
Nadia is on her way to the University of Michigan in the fall, but in the meantime, she falls in love with Luke, the pastor’s son at Upper Room Chapel.
Luke, a few years older than Nadia, had a promising football career until a terrible injury ended his dreams of ever playing again. He has a job as a waiter at the local tourist trap seafood restaurant and no longer has any ambition to go any further in life. He and Nadia get into some trouble and their relationship ends on bad terms as she leaves for college.
The third teen is Aubrey, a shy, sweet girl who is new to church, and spends all of her time volunteering at Upper Room. Aubrey has recently run away from her mother’s house in order to escape her abusive step-father. She came to Southern California to live with her sister and she joins the church as a way to find a community. She spends all of her time volunteering at Upper Room.
It is at Upper Room that Aubrey and Nadia meet and become best friends. What draws the two girls together is the fact that they are both motherless.
Parts of this story are narrated by The Mothers, a group of church ladies from the Upper Room Chapel. The Mothers are gossipy, suspicious, and nosy. While Aubrey and Nadia are motherless they certainly have the presence of The Mothers from their church watching their every move and judging everything that they do. Many reviews compare The Mothers to a Greek chorus, predicting what will happen and how the story will end in tragedy.
What this book is mainly about though is mothers, all kinds of mothers; the mothers we have lost, the mothers that have abandoned us, the mothers who decide not to have a baby, the mothers that lie steal, or cheat, to protect their offspring, and finally the woman who yearns to become a mother and tries with all of her will to make it happen. This book is also about a teenage girl who is not ready to be a mother and makes a decision that will affect not only her own life, but the lives of everyone at Upper Room Chapel.
Publication Date: October 11, 2016