books, Debut Novel, Reading, Women Writers

“The Mothers” by Brit Bennet

28815371Brit Bennett debuted in the literary world with as much flare and color as her book’s cover denotes. In “The Mothers”, Bennett tells the story of Nadia Turner, a high school senior aching with longing, stymied by the grief of her mother’s recent suicide. Left alone with her grieving father to navigate girlhood and becoming a woman, Nadia reels, acting out in predictable but no less destructive ways.

“Like most girls, she’d already learned that pretty exposes you and pretty hides you and like most girls, she hadn’t yet learned how to navigate the difference.”

Nadia turns to a man – a boy, really – of whom she is hopelessly enamored and who makes her weak in the knees. Luke Sheppard, the pastor’s son, is facing his own unexpected turns in life, waiting tables in a local diner after a career-ending football injury costs him his scholarship and a place in college. Luke and Nadia fall into each other hungrily, both seeking to fill some void with the other’s presence. But, it seems, Luke can only offer a “littlebit” of love. Spoken in the omniscient voice of the church (and eponymous) “Mothers” who periodically interrupt the narrative:

“We would’ve told her that all together, we got centuries on her. If we laid all our lives toes to heel, we were born before the Depression, the Civil War, even America itself. In all that living, we have known men. Oh girl, we have known littlebit love. That littlebit of honey left in an empty jar that traps the sweetness in your mouth long enough to mask your hunger. We have run tongues over teeth to savor that last littlebit as long as we could, and in all our living, nothing has starved us more.”

“The Mothers” is about more than Nadia’s private losses. It is about the lasting, nagging, lurking-around-the-next-bend-nature of grief.

“Grief was not a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip.”

“The Mothers” is also about womanhood and coming of age, and Brit Bennett’s words are sometimes agonizing, sometimes smirking, and always poignant.

“Suffering pain is what made you a woman. Most of the milestones in a woman’s life were accompanied by pain, like her first time having sex or birthing a child. For men, it was all orgasms and champagne.”

Brit Bennett and her brilliant first novel are every bit as good as the hype. Knowing at once that I would love this book, I was still frequently surprised at how visceral my reactions were and how deeply I felt Bennett’s words and Nadia’s aches. Wonderful, challenging, and not without hope.

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