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The Mothers, Jennifer Gilmore, Scribner, 2013, 275 pp
There is a new word in the zeitgeist: Fertility. It appears to be a problem aligned to a socioeconomic level. Middle class women who put off baby making for careers, who rack up stress out in the cold, hard, competitive world of the workplace, then find it hard to conceive and/or carry a baby to term.
The story telling in Jennifer Gilmore's novel about mothers encompasses the ones with children, the pregnant ones, adoptive mothers looking for babies, and birth mothers looking for other mothers to take their babies. What grabbed me by the throat was the voice of Jesse.
Jesse's voice is a raw and naked scream of anger, anxiety, and longing. Because Jesse's mother was so busy flitting around the world working for social justice, Jesse and her sister were mostly raised by an African American nanny. Now approaching 40 and having endured years of fertility treatments and In Vitro Fertilization, she and her husband Ramon have resigned themselves to adoption. The process only gets more complex and nerve wracking as it sends them into new roller coasters of hopes raised and dashed.
Rarely have I read any dialogue of marital fighting that sounds so much like real life. Still more rare is the re-creation in fiction of female emotion as it really and truly feels. You see, we've been quelled, we've been told over and over to calm down. Jesse says to Ramon, "Do not tell me to calm down. A word of advice? Don't tell any woman to calm down. Ever."
Ramon is not a bad guy or a bad husband. He is in there pitching all the way. He has his own hurts on the father side of things. But he is not ever going to be a mother. Jesse is. She will not be denied.
I think The Mothers is not a universal story. It is about an array of particular mothers and their particular experiences. Most of all, it is Jesse's story. There could well be women who would hate this novel. I know for sure there are men who would tell Jesse not only to calm down but also to shut up already.
I read, impelled by this woman's anger, anxiety, and longing. I emerged at the end emotionally ravaged, not convinced that Jesse would be a good mother but certain that she would raise a daughter who had free emotions. We don't find out. The book ends.
(The Mothers is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)