The Push, by Ashley Audrain

Trigger warning for child abuse.

I hate to say it, but I’ve seen something very similar to The Push by Ashley Audrain. This story about a woman who grows to fear one of her own children and questioning her ability to be a mother looks a lot like Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. Perhaps the fact that that Audrain wrote and published a similar story means that it’s slowly more acceptable for women to talk about their (our) feelings when they run counter to what our society tells them (us). We are told that mothers are an endless spring of unconditional love, naturally nurturing. After reading The Push (and We Need to Talk About Kevin), I have to question just how natural our model of the perfect mother in a nuclear family really is.

Blythe Connor didn’t want to be a mother. She was more than content to live with her husband, occasionally publishing short stories. It’s hard to say how much of Blythe’s reluctance comes from her family history and how much is her own anxiety. She has unpleasant memories of being abandoned by her own mother—who was abused by her mother. How can Blythe be a mother when she never learned how? In spite of Blythe’s reluctance, she goes ahead with the pregnancy. After all—she is assured—a lot of women are nervous and things usually work out just fine. Things don’t work out fine; we knew that from the beginning when Blythe drives to a house where her husband lives with his new family.

She and her daughter can’t seem to bond. Her daughter, Violet, won’t sleep through the night, meaning that Blythe can’t sleep. Breastfeeding is a nightmare. Violet has inexplicable rages that change into very disturbing behavior when she is sent to daycare. All of this is compounded by Blythe’s inability to really talk about what’s going wrong. Her husband just thinks Blythe isn’t trying hard enough. Other mothers are always quick to say that all of the hardships are worth it. But it never gets better no matter how hard Blythe tries.

As The Push moves back and forth through time—going back two generations to show us Blythe’s mother and grandmother and forward from Violet’s birth to whatever broke the family apart—we slowly delve into the side of motherhood that no one seems to want to talk about. Motherhood is hard and mothers need all the help they can get. We need to be more willing to discuss the hard parts without glossing over them to say that if a mother just tries a little bit harder, it will all work out. No amount of trying will magically fix Violet and Blythe’s relationship or Violet’s sinister impulses.

Because I’ve read We Need to Talk About Kevin and because I found the ending of The Push to have undeveloped twists, I’m not as enamored of this book as others seem to be in reviews I’ve read. I thought We Need to Talk About Kevin packed a harder emotional punch. That said, I really appreciated that The Push continues an important but uncomfortable conversation.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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