fiction

Book Review: The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

Another book from my own shelves, the last read of 2020. I don’t read a ton of thrillers, but I don’t mind them when they’re more at ‘constant low level of unease’ versus ‘people chasing each other with knives and various other weapons through scary landscapes in the dark of night.’ I don’t want to be on the edge of my seat, but I do like trying to figure out what happened (and I’m really terrible at this!). The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy (Harper, 2018) seemed to fit those parameters, or at least it did at the two-summers-ago book sale where I tossed it into my paper bag with all my other literary treasures for seven bucks. Either way, that makes it a win for me!

The May Moms are a new mom group, meeting first online and then in a park near their Brooklyn residences. It’s been a year of changes for them- pregnancies, work adjustments, moves, the addition of these helpless new creatures who have upended every part of their lives- and they’re leaning on each other for support. A night out for some of them leads to an unthinkable tragedy, and when the media descends, several of the moms are left questioning exactly how things happened that night. Where is their member’s missing son? How can they all possibly cope with this? And what exactly makes a good mother these days?

I’ve been a part of an online mom group- two, in fact- since my 18-year-old son was a newborn. I understand the quick camaraderie that comes from desperately begging a group of internet strangers what this rash could possibly be or asking how you can get this kid to sleep because you’re about to lose your mind. Aimee Molloy captures the support, the gossipy cattiness, and the tentative new connections forged during this tense time of life quite well, and she’s absolute magic at painting the full picture of new motherhood- leaking breasts (and the intense worry that you’re breastfeeding incorrectly and your kid is starving to death), your body feeling nothing like the body you’ve lived in your whole life, the exhaustion that pervades everything, the constant renegotiations of other relationships in your life (including your marriage/romantic partnership)… The new mothers’ desperation and exhaustion was so blatant and real on the page that it started to make me feel a little panicky from time to time. I do NOT miss those days at all!

I had a little bit of a difficult time keeping the characters straight. The POV switches back and forth and I did have to stop and keep going, “Wait, which is this one?”, but the rest of the story holds up well enough that this didn’t throw me off too much (and to be honest, this is probably more a me thing; I will occasionally read an entire book and can recount the plot with no problem, but I’ll be entirely unable to tell you a single character’s name). The story of baby Midas’s disappearance, the fear surrounding it, the media sensationalizing it and demanding to know why these mothers were out on their own and not at home caring for their babies (because as we all know, babies will DIE DIE DIE the second their mothers step away to do anything selfish like eat or shower, and definitely if they want a few hours to themselves to be their own people and not just infant servants. Ugh), it’s all so very modern and ripped-from-the-headlines. I’d never heard of this book before (not even 50,000 Goodreads ratings), but I feel like it should have gotten more attention, because it’s basically a layman’s Law & Order episode in book form.

The Perfect Mother is gripping, but in a gentle way. It’ll keep you turning pages to find out what happened, but it’s not that uncomfortable-on-every-page kind of unease that generally keeps me away from thrillers. This was definitely worth my time.

Visit Aimee Molloy’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Devotion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro

Onward with the reading challenges! (Or at least the one I’m most focused on, anyway.) I needed a book with a three-word title for the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge, and, upon searching my TBR, found that my library had an ebook of Devotion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro (Harper, 2010). This one ended up on my TBR last year after I read her other memoir, Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, so I was really looking forward to reading her again and ticking off another box on the PopSugar Reading Challenge.

(Side note: Either there aren’t a lot of books with three-word titles, or I am just not drawn to those particular books!)

Ms. Shapiro writes of middle age and the challenges that come along with it. Having almost lost her son as a baby to a seizure disorder has left her with what is most likely some measure of PTSD and her anxiety about him and the rest of life is through the roof. She’s been asking the big questions about the meaning of life and how best to cope, but hasn’t come upon any true answers, and she’s not entirely sure she even knows how to.

Along the way, she discovers yoga and meditation, and those help, as do the lessons she learns from the mentors she seeks out. She also grapples with the Orthodox Judaism with which she was raised and has since abandoned- what parts of it, if any, does she want to retain? How can she pass along to her son a tradition she’s not fully comfortable in or with? There are never any concrete answers, only a sense of becoming comfortable with the questions and discomfort that life causes, and the knowledge that the search, however meandering, is an important part of life.

I liked this. It felt like a poignant read for these times. She occasionally moves back and forth in time, wanders here and there in her memories, but it’s never difficult to follow her train of thought. I understood her anxiety, the kind that wakes you up in the middle of the night (HELLO, THREE AM THIS MORNING!) and makes you unable to enjoy or fully live in this present moment. Worrying about your kids, worrying about the state of the world, that indescribable feeling of dread that pervades every moment of your life and always seems to be hanging out in the background, ready to crank up to eleven at any given moment, Ms. Shapiro does a great job of illustrating what life looks like with this.

Grappling with the religion she was born into is also something I understood, and while our paths differed in that Ms. Shapiro seems to have eventually found a balance with hers, I enjoyed reading the details of her search. At one point, she wrote about finally finding a synagogue that felt like home, and the name of the rabbi rang a bell. I googled, and sure enough, he had appeared on an episode of the Unorthodox podcast (Ms. Shapiro has also appeared on this podcast)! Small world. I love when that happens.

If you’re looking for a memoir with more concrete answers and advice, this may not be the book for you, but Devotion: A Memoir documents well that the journey is important, too; that anxiety, though a constant companion for many of us, can be managed in many different ways; that sometimes what we’re born into needs to be rearranged in order to fit the person we grow into. Two thumbs up for what ended up feeling like a calming read for me during this turbulent time.

Visit Dani Shapiro’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

memoir

Going Doolally: An honest tale of anxiety and motherhood- Katie Pickworth

Anxiety and motherhood? Hey, it’s the place where I live!

I can’t say I know anything about life without anxiety; it’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. While antidepressants helped me deal with depression, they never quite turned off my constant stream of worst-case-scenario-for-absolutely-every-single-moment that my brain offers up on a daily basis. It’s just become something I’ve learned to live with, or, probably more accurately, live alongside, so when Katie Pickworth offered me a copy of her book, Going Doolally: An honest tale of anxiety and motherhood (independently published, 2019), I accepted, because boy, could I ever relate.

Katie Pickworth’s anxiety started early on in life, affecting both her physical health as a child along with her schooling. As an adult, she found that working in television production on shows like Hell’s Kitchen, EastEnders, and I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here made excellent use of her creative thinking and problem-solving skills, but she still struggled mightily in groups of friends and social situations. And motherhood wasn’t any easier; pre-eclampsia forced her into hospital for an early delivery, and postpartum eclampsia saw that she returned there soon afterwards. She filled the days of her son’s first year with classes and playgroups, making the anxiety-related decision to join a playgroup several towns over as insurance in the event she needed to never see anyone from that group ever again. (I can’t believe I never thought of that!) And then, it was time for baby #2.

Ms. Pickworth writes about her anxiety, motherhood, and all the chaos that accompanies both, with brutal honesty and an incredible amount of self-awareness. Quite a few quotes had me laughing and/or nodding vigorously, including these two:

I didn’t know the sperm stays alive for up to five days. Five days? How is that even possible, or not the most disgusting thing you’ve ever heard?

If this is your first child, just think about [the period of time before you give birth] being very precious, because once the baby comes, the things you used to do without question become the lowest priority, and sometimes that really sucks.

Going Doolally is not without issues: I felt as though it could have been better organized; the writing wanders at times, lacking a strong sense of direction and focus; it ends with a series of Facebook updates from her sons’ first years, which felt out of place and not applicable to what the rest of the book was trying to achieve . But where this memoir shines is Ms. Pickworth’s candor about her struggles, and the authenticity of her voice. So many of the things she said, I could relate to, having dealt with similar situations myself. She writes,

There are some with the opinion that when you have young children, the washing up and such chores can wait. The trouble is, when you’re like me, that’s utter bollocks.

SAME. I’m the farthest thing from a neat freak, but I can’t think straight in a room strewn with toys, or relax when I KNOW there are dishes in the sink and people have left items all over the counters. I will work myself into pain (because I also suffer from chronic pain) in order to complete these chores, because otherwise, my anxiety skyrockets.

Ms. Pickworth may not have all the answers, but she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to living with anxiety, and, at 112 pages, this book would make a quick but informative read for any anxiety-sufferer thinking about becoming a parent OR the spouse or partner of someone with anxiety. Trying to explain what we’re feeling and how deeply we struggle isn’t always easy, but Going Doolally does a fantastic job portraying what parenting looks like when you’re eyebrow-deep in your own brain trying to convince you to worry about and fear every. last. thing.

I know it’s important to never give up. I also know it’s important to pick your anxiety battles.

Excellent advice, advice that I definitely need to incorporate into my life.

Huge thanks to Katie Pickworth for providing me a copy of your book to read and review!