Thursday, August 2, 2007
Book Review: The Other Mother by Gwendolen Gross
Don't even ask me how I got there. I think it was Roughly Speaking, and then someone named Allison, and then...before I knew it I was lucky enough to have a brand-spankin' new copy of Gwendolen Gross' new novel The Other Mother in my hot little hands.
It was fitting that I read this book (over the course of two nights - finally finishing it up at midnight which, by the way, is *way* beyond my normal falling asleep on the couch time of 8:30 pm) after I had just spent a week at home with my two children. Being a full-time work outside the home mom, I got a teeny taste of what it's like for SAHMs - only since it was technically a "vacation", I didn't really have to worry about doing stuff like oh, grocery shopping or cleaning or getting s**t done. So I really was able to empathize with both Thea and Amanda, the co-protaganists (if that's a word) of this, Gross's third, book.
The book takes place in a suburb of New Jersey where Thea, a stay-at-home mom of three, welcomes the very pregnant Amanda, a book editor in Manhattan, to the neighborhood. It is autumn and there is a ominous feeling to the book right from the very first page. It's the kind of feeling you get when you hear rustling in the autumn leaves and turn around quickly to see who is following you. The tone of this book is definitely not a light-hearted one and as Amanda copes with the birth of her new baby and a disorienting relocation to Thea's house, you can feel the tension and the suspense build with every page-turn. Together with the other characters, both dead and alive, in the novel, Thea's two daughters and son, Amanda's husband and her mother, Thea's husband and her childhood friend Tia, Gross builds a world in which self-doubt combined with self-discovery make for complicated and tenuous relationships: between mothers and daughters, girlfriends, spouses, and even co-workers.
The jacket of The Other Mother reads, "A gripping story that takes both sides of the mommy wars" and while I will agree that the book is gripping, I would argue that it is less about the mommy wars and more about two women (the book is written in first person narrative and chapters alternate between the two women) who question their own decisions just as much as they question each other's decisons. If you are turned off by the "mommy wars" debate, I would still encourage you to read this book; I did not find it divisive at all, in fact, I found it to be a very thoughtful book -- at its conclusion your may find you are thinking less about "the other" and more about yourself. Towards the end of the book, the character of Amanda recalls a moment in time when her mother, teaching her how to tie her shoes in a way that was different from the way her father had shown her, says, "Sometimes different methods work for different people." Tying shoes, living your life. There's something to be said for that.
In bookstores August 7th, 2007