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MotherKind Hardcover – April 18, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375401946
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375401947
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,607,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Although we know from its first page that the protagonist's mother is dying of cancer, Jayne Anne Phillips's rich, involving novel is not a story of loss but of connection. Thirty-year-old Kate, an unmarried poet, has traveled home to tell her mother, Katherine, that she is expecting a child. A few months later, Katherine will be compelled to move into her daughter's chaotic suburban household.
The birth of Kate's baby approached and her mother consented to chemotherapy, consented to leaving home, consented to never going home again, where she'd lived all her life. She crossed all those lines in her wheelchair, without a whimper, moving down an airport walkway. In its cage, her little dog made a sound. "Hush," she said.
For the balance of MotherKind, the narrative focus shifts between this visit to the country--like time travel to a sepia-toned world of unpolluted streams, flowering meadows, and rural gas stations--and the new life Kate is building with Matt, her unruly stepsons, and newborn Alexander, while Katherine slowly dies upstairs. As Phillips moves back and forth, she emphasizes the continuity of human life, rather than individual endings or beginnings, and functions like thought itself: obsessively returning to a few prized details, puzzling over old mysteries, making occasional random discoveries or unexpected insights, like treasures turned up by a garden hoe. Recalling her sadness and admiration as she watched her mother rolling toward her in the airport wheelchair, Kate is struck by a realization that "all lines of transit came together in a starry radiance too bright to observe," a magical realm where "manly cowboys glanced away from death and rode on through big-skyed plains and sage."

Though her third novel may contain all the emotional ingredients of a made-for-television movie, Phillips avoids tear-jerking through the use of precisely observed details (the plastic medicine spoon for her mother's morphine, the Christmas songs that double as lullabies for little Alexander) and the absence of cliché. She has even side-stepped, at the end, the requisite death-bed scene, knowing that there is almost no way left to write about such moments without recourse to received language and images. MotherKind uncovers the mixed sources of maternal strength in love, habit, and necessity. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

A meticulous writer, Phillips has produced only four books to date, including the novels Machine Dreams and Shelter, in which she explored the paradoxes of existence from the points of view of youthful characters. This deeply felt, profoundly affecting novel, her best so far, exhibits a maturity of vision both keen and wistful. On a summer day, 30-year-old Kate Tateman flies to her Appalachian hometown to tell her mother, Katherine, that she is pregnant. Always a nonconformist, one who felt most in tune with herself during an itinerant year in Sri Lanka, India and Nepal, Kate is not yet married to the baby's father, Matthew, whose divorce is in progress. During the course of the following 18 months, we watch Kate give birth to a son, Tatie; care for Katherine--who has cancer, and decides to move in with Kate and Matt in Boston so she can live to see the baby--and serve as surrogate mother to Matthew's unruly sons, Sam, eight, and Josh, six, who resent her for destroying their home. The narrative captures the quotidian rhythms of domesticity, the stresses of childraising and of nursing the sick, creating a focused yet universal world. A progression of caregiving women help Kate through these life passages: a helper for newborns, various babysitters and the hospice nurses who arrive when Katherine becomes moribund. Phillips explores the intuitive bond between mothers and daughters with unforced grace. All the characters are articulate and introspective; they ponder the human condition, yet function in the daily sphere, with dialogue so easy and true it seems inevitable. While absorbed in the discomforts of childbearing, Kate ruminates about the continuum of time that sweeps her mother toward "the chasm of death"--even as little Tatie thrives and Sam and Josh gradually become integrated into their father's new household. Kate conjectures "that all lines of transit came together in a starry radiance too bright to observe." Amid the inexorable approach of death, the messy certitude and fecund abundance of human life resonate throughout this compassionate and spiritually nourishing novel. 50,000 first printing.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

I found this book very boring and it took me a real long time to finish it.
Deborah Di Gioia
If I were to turn back time, I wouldn't read this book but would pick up another by this author.
Shasta's D
The book is full of humor and insight, and best of all, basic human decency.
Harley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This graceful, moving novel tells a heroic story of ordinary life in a way that echoes long after the book is finished. The passing of power and responsibity from one generation to another, the bittersweet flow of family energy passing through Kate at the center as the death of her mother overlaps the birth of her son, the struggles of a young blended family trying to gain a foothold under the weight of terminal illness...all told touchingly against a backdrop of seasonal holidays, neighbors, birthdays. For anyone with a family, this is a must read. Men and women alike will find that Motherkind resonates with the reality of modern family life, reminding me of many of my own experiences. It serves as a guide for those of us hoping to face the challenges of birth and death, marriage and divorce with courage and clarity.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I finished "Motherkind" just the other night, and I must say, rarely have I experienced such disappointment in a novel. Phillips, the author of the highly acclaimed story collections, "Black Tickets," and "Fast Lanes," and two previous novels, can be a brilliant wriiter. Yet this novel saddened me--not because of the subject matter, which centers on the juggling of a new baby, husband, stepsons, and the death of the protagonist's mother--but because the narrative flow was so often diluted by overly sentimental, maudlin scenes and expository, didactic dialogue, most of which would have succeeded better as narrative. Perhaps having read interviews with Phillips discussing the death of her mother influenced my reading, but I could not help feeling what a dangerous thread of thinly-veiled autobiography Phillips was treading. As a writer, I give her kudos for her courage in tackling a subject so close to her own life and for her lyrical poetic language, yet the novel reinforced my feelings about her earlier novels: as a writer, Phillips is simply better suited to the short form. There are lovely passages, yet the novel as a whole feels hollow, somehow, as if Phillips were never quite able to penetrate the protective membrane in which she has encased it. Sadly, this is not work of a writer--as one would expect it to be--at the height of her powers.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Harley on May 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
MotherKind is cathartic. The book is full of humor and insight, and best of all, basic human decency. The relationships between mother, daughter, grandmother, lovers, fathers, friends are familiar and believable, carefully described and absolutely convincing. The resolution of each conflict is so satisfying that MotherKind's conclusion has the comforting resolution of a Bach fugue. Masterful. Thank you, Ms. Phillips!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By "janevaningen" on January 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is one of those books that I wanted to like more than I did. The characters are interesting and the sense of time and place are moving, but ultimately it didn't move me. I suggest people take it out of the library or buy a used copy (as I did) if they're going to buy it.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Anytime a Jayne Anne Phillips book comes out, the temptation is to compare it to her great story collections Black Tickets and Fast Lanes. But Motherkind fails on its own terms, with bland characters and even blander, flabbier scene setting. It's hard to care about a narrator so self-obsessed. Just as a friend's pregnancy is more interesting to her, the narrator seems to think we'll be fascinated by her endless litany of childbearing/childrearing, most of which is old hat. An earlier Phillips would have undercut this sentimentality with vicious irony (without lessening the characters), but here she piles on even more. Her last novel Shelter was overdone too. Maybe it's time to pare down and go back to short fiction.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Catfish_Hunter on May 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As a nearly 300 page character study (or relationship study or exercise in putting many beautiful sentences together) this book is first rate. Phillips is clearly a gifted writer. But...I kept waiting for something to happen. Since we know on page 1 that Katherine is dying that no longer counts as the crisis that keeps a good story moving. Perhaps this book should be looked upon as a slice of life--often beautiful, sometimes strikingly mundane--but not the stuff of the engrossing novel I was hoping it might be.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Shasta's D on December 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book seemed like a glimpse of someone's hectic everyday life. I am amazed I finished it. I enjoyed the author's writing style (some great imagery and thought connections) but the story never amounted to anything. The characters seemed like aquaintences-I knew some details of their lives but I never really cared about them or about getting to know them. The relationships of the main character (her name escapes me) were of interest at first, but again never amount to much. Her relationships with women were strong, her relationship with her husband, disconcerting. The book felt like it was building to something but it never peaked. Can I assume this is the author's comment on life?
If I were to turn back time, I wouldn't read this book but would pick up another by this author. I will consider reading other work of hers in the future.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Larry L. Looney on July 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
I didn't find this novel to be the easiest thing to read that I've picked up in the last few months -- but, that being said, I felt that the beauty of the language compelled me to finish it, once I had begun.
Jayne Anne Phillips has taken on a monumental task in writing this book. She has reduced the events and emotions of life-changing events -- the birth of a child, the agony and ecstasy of breastfeeding, and the at-home hospice care of a dying mother -- into words, onto the printed page. Her observations and meditations of these events are illuminating and moving. The seemingly everyday events in the lives of her characters take on a luminosity usually only bestowed by painters on their subjects. Things we take for granted -- a walk down the street to the market, a confidence shared with a friend, the touch of a mother's hand -- all take on an importance that is magnified. This magnification is not a falsification -- it is an opportunity for us to realize the importance of small things, an importance too often overlooked in our busy lives. This novel, then, becomes a study in priorities.
I had a hard time getting past the first 100 pages or so -- and I think, in retrospect, I can attribute this to the author's pursuit of the 'mundane' details in everyday living. When I finally accustomed myself to the style she employed, I was able to relax more, take my time, and relish her creation.
As far as other works I've read by Phillips, I must say that I enjoyed her novel SHELTER a bit more -- but her talent is genuine and accomplished, and I look forward to reading other works.
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