The best and hardest thing in your life just might be your relationship with your mother. It is never simple and it is never no big deal. Just ask Freud–he’ll tell you. Growing up and having kids of one’s own proves even more incredible and challenging, adding layer upon layer to what is already the most complex and possibly important relationship in a person’s life. But don’t take my word for it. Check out these four lyrical, original, gorgeous novels about motherhood.
The hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
O’Farrell’s novel follows two women, separated by 50 years, as they experience pivotal points in their life. Lexie Sinclair escapes her boring country life for London and finds herself thrust into the center of the dream life she’s always wanted. When she finds herself pregnant and unattached, she has no qualms about having the baby on her own and and does so with aplomb. 50 years later, we meet Elina, a brand new mother having undergone a rather traumatic surgical birth experience. Veering unsteadily through her new life as a mother, Elina struggles to regain her balance. Weaving together the two stories into a satisfying conclusion, Maggie O’Farrell has created a winning novel. Her writing is a gorgeous meditation on women’s lives, the creation of the self and what happens when becoming a mother shakes your foundations. I read this about a year after having my first child and it was the only book I read that accurately described how I felt in those first emotional months of motherhood. That part of the book combined with the excitement of Lexie’s story in postwar London makes it an ideal read.
Where’d you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Can we just hand this book out on street corners, please? Everyone is always looking for a funny, well-written story, and it can be hard to find something that meets both criteria. Bernadette is a famous architect who lives in Seattle with her Microsoft Guru husband and her 15-year old daughter, Bee. Growing increasingly agoraphobic, Bernadette goes to great lengths to avoid the other parents at her daughter’s school and uses a personal assistant in India to run her life. One day, Bernadette disappears and her daughter uses emails, receipts and official documents to piece together where her mother might have gone and what sent her running. Where’d you go Bernadette is a like a cross between a Wes Anderson Film and a piece written by Tina Fey. Funny, sad, intimate and really, really interesting. I believe they’re making this into a movie, but I don’t want to see it unless it’s a. starring Tina Fey or Toni Collete as Bernadette and b. adapted and directed by a woman.
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
Kate is reeling from the news that her 15-year old daughter, Amelia, has committed suicide by jumping off the roof of her school. Then she gets an anonymous text that reads simply: Amelia didn’t jump. Kate delves into her daughter’s life, talking with her friends, going through her things, trying to solve the mystery of her life and untimely end. Interspersed with Amelia’s emails, texts and Facebook posts, we learn more about Kate’s life, and the never ending guilt she feels as a full time working, single mom. This engaging story does a fine job toeing the line between indulgent beach read and affecting literary drama. I gulped the whole thing down in about three days.
Everything I never told you by Celeste Ng
Like Reconstructing Amelia, this graceful novel has something essentially sad at its core: the death of a teenage girl. Written in muted, lovely language, this story follows a Chinese American family living in small town Ohio. Wife and mother Marilyn is eternally frustrated by her foiled career as a medical doctor, having chosen to be a mother and homemaker instead. She pours all of her hopes and dreams into her daughter Lydia, pushing and pushing her to be the best at everything and barely paying attention to her son, Nathan. When Lydia turns up dead, having drowned in the nearby lake, long buried emotions begin to leak out of every crack in this tortured family. Despite the heaviness of the story, Ng’s novel is an easy read, and serves as a wonderful reminder to let our children pursue their own dreams instead of ours.