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288 pages, Hardcover
First published October 11, 2016
A girl nowadays has to get nice and close to tell if her man ain’t shit and by then it might be too late. We were girls once. It’s exciting, loving someone who can never love you back. Freeing, in its own way. No shame in loving an aint-shit man, long as you get it out of your system good and early. A tragic woman hooks into an aint-shit man, or worse, lets him hook into her. He will drag her until he tires. He will climb atop her shoulders and her body will sag from the weight of loving him.It does not matter where you are planted. How can you grow straight and strong if some of your deepest roots have been ripped out? If the cords that nurture are cut before completing their mission? The Mothers is a story of absence, a tale based on what is not there, and secrets about what is. Nadia Turner is a pretty seventeen-year-old, living in Oceanside, California with her father. For reasons that are never made entirely clear, her mother killed herself. Dad turned inward and to their church for solace or distraction. Nadia sought comfort elsewhere, with Luke Shepherd, the pastor’s handsome son, which led to her becoming pregnant.
All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season. But we didn’t. We shared this sour secret, a secret that began the Spring Nadia Turner got knocked up…The mothers feel somewhat spectral, but some of them get involved in very material ways throughout the story.
In a lot of ways, I was writing in the direction of my fears. When I was younger, one of the worst things I could have done was to get pregnant. Another thing that really scared me was the idea of losing my mother - from the Vogue interviewThe core plot structure is a romantic triangle. Nadia is smitten with Luke, although he shows himself to be something less than a beacon of light. She becomes close friends with another young woman who is also working at the church. Aubrey is the darling of the pastor’s wife, a devoted Christian who wears a chastity ring. She has had a rough go of it, though, living with an older half-sister, as the latest in her mother’s seemingly endless string of loser boyfriends has made life at home intolerable. As college-bound Nadia moves on and up, Aubrey and Luke become involved. But there is still a spark between Nadia and Luke, and things get complicated.
And I thought the book was going to take place just in one summer. But then as I got older, I realized something obvious—that the coming-of-age process doesn’t happen so neatly. The book, I think, is about this central question of how girls grow into women when the female figures who are supposed to usher you into womanhood aren’t there. - from the Vogue interviewAbsence is profound. When Nadia’s mother killed herself she took a huge piece of her daughter with her. Coping with that deep loss is core to Nadia’s personality and struggles. Compounding the loss of her mother, Nadia’s father retreats into himself, becoming the most minimal sort of father. Aubrey also suffers from the loss of her mother. Although she is alive, Mom remains an absentee part of her life. Both Nadia and Luke contend with feelings about the abortion over the years, wondering what their lives might have become if they had raised a baby. While much of the what-iffing centers on the abortion, other people’s forked roads are considered as well. What if they had done this instead of that? Made that choice instead of the one they made. What might their lives look like? What might Nadia’s life have looked like if her mother had lived? What might her mother’s life had been if she had chosen to live it?
I grew up with this book. I started writing it when I was about 17 or 18, so either in college or about to go to college—and then started working on it more seriously in college and then grad school. So when I started writing The Mothers, I was the same age the characters were. I grew up as the characters stayed the same. - from the Jezebel interviewThere is a richness of language to this book that is surprising given the tender age of the author. Yet, there is such an ear for sound and rhythm, the cadence of language, and the beauty. Many times I imagined the dialogue being spoken on a stage, and wondered if parts were born there. Bennett has a story-teller’s ability to pull readers in, as if by a campfire on a warm evening. “Gather round, come on now, in closer. That’s right. Settle. Everyone comfy? Ok? I’ve got a story here I think you’ll want to hear.” And then she begins, “We didn’t believe when we first heard, because you know how church folk can gossip…” All eyes fix on her, and thought of all else floats up into the night, competing for air space with fireflies, mosquitoes, and wafting smoke from the blaze. Bennett’s voice swaddles us in the sound of story, in her portraits of people, and we fly with her through her realm. It is a journey worth making.
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too
"All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season."
“Grief was not a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip.”