Review by Megan Bosarge
What comes to mind when you think of the word mother? An infant suckling at it’s mother’s breast? Lunches being packed, stories being read and scraped knees being kissed? Perhaps something not so tender? Maybe loss, anger, or even fear. As Ashley Audrain artfully illustrates, not everyone has a fond or loving experience of mothering or being mothered.
The Push tells an unconventional tale of mothers and their daughters spanning 4 generations, and paints a dark and painfully honest truth about how motherhood is not always what we dream it to be. Blythe never gave much thought to the kind of mother she would be, though she knew without doubt that she wanted children, even if she didn’t exactly know why. When her daughter, Violet, is born, Blythe begins to feel an unusual coldness toward her child. Violet in turn prefers her father from day one. It is unclear however, if Violet is simply mimicking the coldness of her own mother or if Violet’s detachment is innate and makes it impossible for Blythe to feel maternal toward her.
Soon we get glimpses into the lives of Blythe’s mother and grandmother, from whom she is now estranged. These backstories bring a tragic understanding to Blythe’s struggle, but do little to explain Violet’s increasingly odd behavior. Despite the lack of warmth Blythe feels for her daughter, she puts in tireless effort to raise her properly. She goes through all of the motions, tending to her daughter’s every need, nurturing her. When other mother’s say “isn’t it just the best job in the world?” Blythe feigns enthusiastic agreement. Soon Violet begins acting stranger; stabbing a child with a pencil at daycare or ripping a chunk of hair from a little boy’s head. And eventually, Violet turns even darker, the nature of which even Blythe cannot believe. She begins to fear that Violet is not only disturbed, but dangerous. One day, Blythe witnesses a deadly accident at a playground and can’t shake the image of her daughter subtly pushing the child to his death. But when she confides in her husband, he chalks it up to her mental state or her lack of success as a mother and an ever expanding hole grows within their marriage. Blythe fears she will forever wonder if she is just crazy, or if her daughter is, in fact, capable of such violent things. And then one day, she gets her answer.
This book is disturbing and heartbreaking, leaving me struggling to function after certain scenes gutted me, unable to process the layers of emotion that consumed me.
We live in a culture where motherhood is expected of us. If we cannot bear children, we are broken and if we do not want children, we are somehow inhuman. And if we have children, any element of struggle or strife is a weakness. We must cherish motherhood, we must adore our children and we must savor every moment. But Audrain dares to challenge that narrative and expose a raw, unbecoming truth of how motherhood can be painful. And how sometimes, despite our best efforts to do everything right, our children may still end up…damaged.
This book tore my heart out again and again. You will continue to turn the pages like a car accident you don’t want to look at, but just have to see. This book changed me, though I’m still not certain how. Perhaps, in the most unsettling way, this book made me a better mother.
Categories: Book Reviews