I thought about posting merely a series of GIFs exhibiting various emotions as representative of my thoughts on this book. I guess I’ll give you a little bit more than that. But, for the record, my search for said GIFs would include such search terms as WTF, OMG, and holy fuckballs, Batman.
I have a feeling in the history of motherhood there hasn’t been one mother who hasn’t worried that she wouldn’t feel an instant connection to her child prior to giving birth. There’s this prevailing notion that the bond between mother and child is natural and inevitable, but sometimes this isn’t the case. And for those of us motherhood doesn’t exactly come natural to, the ones hesitant to hold friend’s babies and such (you know who you are), this feeling is a bit more pronounced. For Blythe Connor, there’s an instant feeling of disconnection that over time begins to plague her with thoughts that something just isn’t right with her daughter, Violet. How can Blythe have a lasting, irrevocable bond with her son but not with her daughter? Everyone else, including Blythe’s husband Fox, believes Violet to be a completely normal little girl. The problem, in their eyes, rests with Blythe. It’s all in her head. She’s manufactured a problem where a problem doesn’t exist.
When a tragedy occurs that changes their lives in an instant, Blythe remains the only person who thinks she knows the ugly truth of what her daughter is truly capable. She finds herself further alienated from her family, falling down into a spiral of depression and anxiety that causes her to question her own sanity. We, as the reader, also reach a point at which we have no idea what is true and what exists only in the realm of Blythe’s fragile imagination. Blythe is the ultimate unreliable narrator, yet we can’t help but to feel a kinship with her in our collective confusion. The result is as thrilling a narration as it is disturbing.
This isn’t necessarily an original idea for a story, but it takes its own original spin on the tale. To me, it’s very reminiscent of both Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel We Need to Talk About Kevin and William Landay’s 2012 novel Defending Jacob. All three are excellent, compelling novels, but under no circumstances should any of them be read by any mamas currently pregnant with their first child. Just don’t do it. Put the book down and wait until you’re home with that adorable, cooing smiley bundle of love that is a perfect example of what a non-sociopathic infant should be. And don’t worry. The first time you duck to avoid the shoe or toy that’s been chucked at your head, little Billy is not actually homicidal, because all toddlers are a bit insane. He will more than likely grow out of it.
Ok, perhaps Anakin Skywalker wasn’t the best person to bring up at this precise moment. He had some good years, right? Moving on.
In short, this is a difficult novel. Trigger warning for gaslighting assholes in fiction. That’s a common one, right? And thematically there’s just so much psychological torture in this book. And that ending! I’m going to shut up, but holy fuckballs, Batman!
Side note: As expected, this is what comes up when one searches “holy fuckballs, batman” in the gif bar:
Ashley Audrain definitely made a name for herself with this debut novel, and I’m pleased to see her second novel, The Whispers, has an expected release date in March of 2023. Once again, the novel seems to be centered around the theme of motherhood and tragedy, and is almost guaranteed to bring some feels. If you’d like to check it out prior to its release, you can do so here.
Published Jan 5, 2021 by Pamela Dorman Books. ISBN 1984881663. Hardcover. 307 pages.