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The Mothers, Brit Bennett, Riverhead Books, 2016, 275 pp
One day in late February, in a spree of book buying, I bought The Mothers in hardcover because it was on the Tournament of Books 2017 list and had a long wait at the library. Then I kept putting off reading it and when it fell out of the Tournament in the early rounds, I resigned it to the TBR stacks.
One day in late March, I read an astute interview with the author on The Millions blog and was so intrigued by her approach to the subject matter that I just picked up the book and started reading. The novel is essentially a look at both sides of abortion from the viewpoints of middle class African Americans in a California beach town north of San Diego.
Nadia Turner lost her mother to suicide, unexpected, unexplained. Nadia is a good girl, a good student, with aspirations. She wants out of her little community and has been accepted with a full scholarship at the University of Michigan.
But her grief over her mother and her father's distant ways of parenting send her into depression, partying, and her first sexual relationship. The minister's son at their church, Luke, who is five years older than Nadia and an injured football player whose goals in sports have been ruined, gets her pregnant.
Nadia is determined to get an abortion. Luke gets the money from his parents, but on the day of the procedure he deserts her. Further developments include new partners for both and it all gets complicated. The novel is a study in ambiguity. The main characters get what they want but not who they want.
Life is messy. Brit Bennett's writing style contains a bit more detachment than I would have liked. You are told what happens with the characters but you don't quite feel it. Still, this is a first novel about big current issues brought down to daily existence for individual human beings. I have always been pro-choice politically but pro-life personally. The Mothers showed me how it is possible to carry both in one's heart and mind. There are no simple answers but we are all working on it.
(The Mothers is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)