Guest Review of “The Mothers”
By Meg Wolitzer
Novels run on various kinds of fuel. Jennifer Gilmore’s remarkable novel The Mothers runs on a combination of rage and desire, two dominant emotions felt by her narrator, Jesse, who along with her husband Ramon is on a long, drawn-out quest to have a child. Unable to conceive, Jesse becomes comfortable with the decision to adopt a baby domestically, through what is known as “open adoption,” in which all parties involved are aware of one another’s identities. The phrase “open adoption” sounds on the surface like an idyllic solution to the problems of closed files and unknown or nebulous family histories; and surely it can work well. But this novel presents no idyll. Jesse and Ramon’s adoption path is thorny and infuriating, marred by bureaucracy, pathology, vagueness and scam after scam.
The novel charts the rise and fall of various possible babies, various possible futures. It’s maddening and nerve-wracking to closely experience what this couple goes through, knowing that while they feel such desperate and chaotic emotions, they also need to remain outwardly calm and open and warm, and accept all comers who contact them.
The Mothers is harrowing and hypnotic, a page-turner that makes the reader long to know what ultimately happens to this couple at the end. But the book also has some very interesting things to say about the desire to be a mother, and the state of motherhood itself. What, after all, is a mother? A woman who gives birth? A woman who raises a child born to someone else? A woman whose child is grown? A woman who desires a child so much and feels consumed by maternal feelings? Reading The Mothers will work the reader up with rage and sympathy toward this couple as they make their way through an unpredictable world that offers no assurances of anything. Of course, as Jennifer Gilmore’s powerful novel lets us see, uncertainty is a big part of the quest toward motherhood by any means; and it’s also, of course, a big part of the state of motherhood itself.
Meg Wolitzer’s new novel is The Interestings (Riverhead).
“The Mothers is a searing examination of the very human desire to be that seemingly simple thing: a mother. Jennifer Gilmore explores the emotional depth and breadth of mothering with raw honesty and her signature grace.” —Ann Hood author of The Red Thread and The Knitting Circle
“With a deft touch, lacerating humor, and a gaze at once steely and tenderhearted, Jennifer Gilmore takes us deep into the experience of maternal desire. This is a thoughtful, emotionally resonant and intimate novel.”
—Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion and Slow Motion
“Motherhood, like all great topics for a novel, can overwhelm. It’s a massive subject with many aspects; how to even approach it? Jennifer Gilmore jumps in, beautifully, in The Mothers, which explores the deep and plangent desire for a child, but also takes on the epic state of contemporary motherhood itself: its status, its limitations, its pleasures and sorrows, and the fantasies that inevitably surround it. This well-observed exploration of maternity both day-to-day and existential has the ache of longing at its heart, and the result is both broad and personal, and always engaging.” (Meg Wolitzer author of The Interestings and The Ten-Year Nap )
“I couldn’t stop reading it—it had the harrowing qualities of a psychological thriller, the comedy of a familiar Jewish family, and was alternately hysterically funny and heartbreaking. It is down to the bone stripped-bare honest.” (A.M. Homes, author of May We Be Forgiven and The Mistress’s Daughter )
“Heartfelt….Though often painful to read, thiscandid account at once embraces ‘the possibility for anything’.” (Publishers Weekly )
“Gilmore has written a humane, realistic novel ofthe penetrating sorrow of people deprived by biology of their overwhelming needto be parents and of the harrowing, obstacle-riddled path to adoption.” (Library Journal )
“A wrenching examination of parenthood that ends on a hopeful note.”
(People Magazine )
“[Readers] will embrace Gilmore’s willingness to probe deeply into her ugliest feelings.”
(Boston Globe )
“With scalpel-like precision, Ms. Gilmore takes apart the standard adoptive-parent narrative….Gilmore is a gifted novelist.”
(Christian Science Monitor )
“Faced with the incredibly daunting tasking of doing justice to such a universal and intricate subject, Gilmore rises exquisitely to the occasion….unflinching, touching, and even laugh-out-loud funny.” (Glamour Magazine )
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