A Review of The Mothers, by Brit Bennett.
On the back cover of The Mothers, by Brit Bennett, Roxane Gay is quoted as saying “The Mothers has stayed with me since I first read it….”. It stayed with me too. It was one of those books I had to sit with for a moment after I turned the last page. For a novel set around a church community, if felt almost prayer-like when I finished it. I had to sit and reflect on it, in silence, with respect.
The plot itself makes for great reading. A tender coming of age story, with some sinister twists and turns, it follows the story of Nadia, a young woman grieving for her mother. We accompany her through her teens and young adulthood. Through her first love, with fallen sports hero, Luke, and its difficult consequences. We stand by her side through her challenges to fit into the suffocating community of which the Upper Room Chapel is central. She is watched closely, and judged, through her mistakes and their consequences, while her boyfriend, and his family, remain anonymous despite their pivotal role in Nadia’s somber journey. We live through her intense friendship with her polar opposite, Aubrey, and the early success of her life once she escapes from it all, despite the haunting nature of her feelings for her past. We also accompany her back to the tightly knit community she left behind and all the implications that brings to her relationships and the life of those she loves.
No spoilers – so that’s all I’ll say – but believe me when I tell you it’s a great read.
It has everything. Romance and heartbreak. Hope and disappointment. Friendship and abandonment. Trust and betrayal.
With every page you turn, there’s something else to make you catch your breath. And like The Vanishing Half, the first Brit Bennett book I read and reviewed, it’s impossible to not feel totally engrossed in the fictional, but life like, community Brit creates.
There are other similarities between The Vanishing Half and The Mothers too. Not least, the fact that this is a Black book. It’s characters are almost all, but not all, Black, and yet race isn’t a key theme. Brit simply reflects “life’s rich tapestry” through her characters. One of the most loving and stable relationships in the town is a gay relationship, for example. The “male lead” is physically disabled. There’s no false-normalcy in Brit’s work, and I love her for that.
Mental health challenges are portrayed openly and honestly. Suicide, loneliness and fear are important aspects of life, though rarely discussed. In The Mothers, they’re dealt with with the same dignity and sensitivity as the events that trigger them. Death, violence, abuse, abortion and injury.
There are no taboos in Brit’s work. This is another of the elements of The Mothers I love. Everything is open. Everyone is equal. In fact, it’s the way Brit enables us to get to know the characters and the events that shape them that I found most compelling. It’s not just the events that provide the drama, it’s the power of her writing. To quote Roxane Gay from the back cover again, “it’s the words and the intimacy of the prose seeping into my pores.”
I felt I knew every character. And each one was flawed, just as we all are in real life. The difference is that in Brit’s work, there are no stereotypes and no judgement.
Have you read The Mothers? What did you think?