- Book: The Push
- Location: North America
- Author: Ashley Audrain
Now, I am going to be clear from the outset, location in this novel is neither fully identifiable nor strong. I presume it is set somewhere in North America, presuming Canada because the author lives there, but you know this is such a strong novel for 2021 that I am featuring it anyway. I came to read it as part of the Grazia Book Club.
It has been compared to We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and indeed you can see the similar tenets.
Blythe is the daughter of Cecilia, who is the daughter of Etta. From a psychological angle, behaviour patterns get passed through the generations and become ingrained in the family dynamics. Cecilia already warns Blythe that the women in their family are different and becoming a mother is not for everyone. In fact, for some women it is a challenge beyond their emotional competencies.
Blythe goes on to meet and marry Fox and together they have Violet. From the outset Blythe struggles with motherhood, and her ability to connect is a worry to her but she cannot summon sufficient motivation to find ways to engage with her baby daughter. Is this an unconscious response to the family script? Or has she sired a child who is very difficult to manage? As the years pass, her daughter responds to Blythe’s emotionally absent parenting with the only thing she knows – abject disconnection and a slyness that seems to ride the line between errant behaviour and evil acting out.
It is never altogether clear whether this mother-daughter dynamic is a massive projection from the former onto the latter, or whether family history has spawned a natural sadist. This is yet another take on the nature/nurture debate.
Blythe’s mother left her and her father for someone else and abandoned her daughter in the most egregious way a mother can. Blythe’s mother showed no interest in her own daughter when they were together and if she did, it had a cruel edge to it. Blythe’s father was a distant but stabilising person in her life. Blythe’s maternal grandmother committed suicide.
A huge loss in the couple relationship becomes pivotal and takes the story to the next level.
It took me maybe 20 pages to understand the rhythm of timelines that the author was constructing, but once the story took off, it became compulsive reading. She has as stunning, quite simple and engaging writing style and of course has chosen a dynamic theme for the narrative, with which I suppose some readers may struggle. It can indeed be a challenging read at times. But I urge you to give a try because there is something quite spectacular and mesmerising about this novel.
And just look at that book cover, a mirror image (of a butterfly-cum-profile) that so often is the first kind of printing technique that children create to learn about the printing process. On point, or what!