The Mothers by Brit Bennett (4/5)

Oh man! I have not updated this blog, that will need to change seeing as I have now completed 7 almost 8 books by women.

*The following may contain spoilers about the book*

This book interested me in the sense that it offered a perspective on abortion and motherhood that could not be provided by a male author. A woman’s perspective! And, although I didn’t agree with the opinion of the author, I did enjoy the book. The fluid writing and unique styling left me wanting more stories from her perspective.
When I chose this book, I was reaching out of my usual genre in an attempt to jump start my year of women. The plot line itself didn’t seem to fall in my narrowed bias and that seemed like the perfect way to begin the journey. I could have chosen something that fell right into my genre preferences and eased my way into this new world of writing, but diving in head first seemed like the wiser decision. I wanted to abandon all comparison I might make and allow myself to read the book without judgement. Had I started with a sci-fi or thriller book I would have been making comparisons and judgements from the start rather than really absorbing the content.

Going beyond genre and gender, this book offered insight from an author who’s gender and race has historically been under represented in mainstream publishing. Reading a book with an opposing view point to my own, that is outside my typical genre and whose author is a demographic I have mostly ignored seemed like a way to move myself away from the white eurocentric male world of writing known broadly as “the classics” and I have found it was a welcome change. I am not a person of color and I therefore cannot really speak to the authenticity of experience, I can only speak to my own experiences. I can, however, offer my assessment of the book as a piece of literature.

The overall feel of The Mothers was feminine, with male characters remaining in the background of the story. The larger theme of the book deals with what it means to be a mother and how absent mothers can change lives. Absent fathers are omnipresent in literature, but the absence of a girl’s mother, either emotionally or physically is rarely discussed. The damage done to young girls without a mother or with an ill-equipped mother is negligible in the world of male authors. The essential role of the father in “making a man” is always  given more attention than a mother’s utility let alone influence, but this book turns that around. The absence of the mother is the focus of the book and the effect of not having a mother is omnipresent to both of the main characters. This is an important theme for many young women, especially when we (the impersonal we) struggle to find a powerful female role model. Women need other women and girls need a strong example of womanhood and what it means to be female in the world. Girls need to know where they stand and what they have to do to better their position and men cannot adequately teach this to girls. If women follow the example of man in an effort to become successful, they end up like many men in positions of power and although that is beneficial for the individual, it is not beneficial for women as a whole.

If you have strong feelings on abortion, positive or negative, you may be irked by the story itself. It takes a topic that is under-discussed and incredibly taboo and builds a world around this one event in a girl’s life. Many reviewers have noted that it pushes the idea that an abortion ruins a life, but these reviewers are basing their opinions on a narrow view of what a life is supposed to look like. If the definition of a good life is for a woman to be married, have children, raise children and make no mistakes, then yes it seems like the protagonists life has been ruined. However, if you look at life in a more nuanced way where success means different things to different people, you may find that her life isn’t ruined. This event has affected the course of her life and has changed her as a person, but any event we give significance to can do the same thing. Not every woman who has an abortion sees it as a significant event in life, but surely some women do and I would (I have no statistical evidence of such, this is just speculation) assume that women who’ve been influenced by christian teachings are more likely to put significance on such an event. This isn’t to say it is only christianity that has this point of view, other religions and social norms press this significance as well, but this book is about christianity as much as anything else.

I don’t think that the abortion is the real purpose of this story though, I never got a feeling that the author was making a point on abortion itself. The bigger picture here is how women are affected by not having a female role model, by religious beliefs and by society as a whole. These are big concepts and this is a book that handles them all fairly well. Do I recommend this book to everyone? No, but I never recommend a book to everyone. I recommend that anyone who are interested in these themes and exploring how the world interacts with females give this book a chance. And I especially recommend it to anyone who wants to read a well written and well thought out book.

The next book on my list: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

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