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The Mothers: A Novel Hardcover – April 9, 2013
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Guest Review of “The Mothers”
By Meg Wolitzer
Novels run on various kinds of fuel. Jennifer Gilmore’s remarkable novel The Mothers runs on a combination of rage and desire, two dominant emotions felt by her narrator, Jesse, who along with her husband Ramon is on a long, drawn-out quest to have a child. Unable to conceive, Jesse becomes comfortable with the decision to adopt a baby domestically, through what is known as “open adoption,” in which all parties involved are aware of one another’s identities. The phrase “open adoption” sounds on the surface like an idyllic solution to the problems of closed files and unknown or nebulous family histories; and surely it can work well. But this novel presents no idyll. Jesse and Ramon’s adoption path is thorny and infuriating, marred by bureaucracy, pathology, vagueness and scam after scam.
The novel charts the rise and fall of various possible babies, various possible futures. It’s maddening and nerve-wracking to closely experience what this couple goes through, knowing that while they feel such desperate and chaotic emotions, they also need to remain outwardly calm and open and warm, and accept all comers who contact them.
The Mothers is harrowing and hypnotic, a page-turner that makes the reader long to know what ultimately happens to this couple at the end. But the book also has some very interesting things to say about the desire to be a mother, and the state of motherhood itself. What, after all, is a mother? A woman who gives birth? A woman who raises a child born to someone else? A woman whose child is grown? A woman who desires a child so much and feels consumed by maternal feelings? Reading The Mothers will work the reader up with rage and sympathy toward this couple as they make their way through an unpredictable world that offers no assurances of anything. Of course, as Jennifer Gilmore’s powerful novel lets us see, uncertainty is a big part of the quest toward motherhood by any means; and it’s also, of course, a big part of the state of motherhood itself.
Meg Wolitzer’s new novel is The Interestings (Riverhead).
More About the Author
Something Red, her second novel, was published by Scribner in Spring of 2010, and was a New York Times Notable Book. It was published in Paperback by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Spring 2011.
Her third novel, The Mothers, is forthcoming from Scribner in April 2013.
Jennifer received her B.A. from Brandeis University in 1992, where she majored in English and Creative Writing, and minored in Women's Studies. After college, she moved out to Seattle, and became the producer and host of the radio program, "Talking Fiction" on KCMU, and the Senior Book Columnist for The Stranger.
In 1997, she received an M.F.A. in Fiction on a scholarship from Cornell University. There, she was an editor at the literary magazine, Epoch, and went on to teach creative writing and literature. After moving to Brooklyn in 1998, she freelanced, and worked for The Leonard Lopate Show at WNYC (it was called New York & Company back then) and as the book club host for A&E.com. From 2001-2007, she worked in publishing, as the publicity director at Harcourt.
Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in magazines and journals including the Alaska Review, Allure, BookForum, the Lincoln Center Theater Review, Los Angeles Times, Nerve, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review,Vogue, SELF, Salon, the Stranger, Tin House, Vogue and the Washington Post. Her personal essays have also been included in several anthologies including More New York Stories: The Best of the City Section of the New York Times, The Friend Who Got Away, Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave and How to Spell Chanukah.
Jennifer has been a MacDowell Fellow, and has taught creative writing and literature at Cornell University, New York University, Eugene Lang College at the New School and at the 92nd Street Y. Currently she teaches at Barnard College and Princeton University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Want more info? Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @jenwgilmore. Or please visit her author page on Facebook.
Top Customer Reviews
Gilmore has managed to address the universal road blocks to adoption without losing the specifically private travails of her adoptive protagonists. Jesse comes from a professional Jewish mother who would read bedtime stories on the phone. She was not only a working mother, she was a militant working mother backed by her ideology. Ramon's family is traditional Italian greeting them with trays of food and ruled by his mother the matriarch. Along each step of their struggle to have a child, from failed in vitro to rejected foreign adoption to the special pain of open adoption in which they interview with the birth mother; they struggle to maintain the security and support of their own marriage. They are forced to confront a series of personal and politically loaded decisions such as openness to race, family insanity, and drug and/or alcohol use of the birth mother.
Through the book, Jesse considers the many mothers of her life and of her struggle to adopt. The writing is fascinating and flows entrancingly throughout the novel. The author can be wry and quite funny in places, because this couple does not slip into that special hell for the reader of taking themselves excessively seriously.Read more ›
The summary is simple. Our protagonists are childless and infertile, nearing the landmark age of 40, and looking to adopt a child. This book takes the reader through the agonizing process they undertake from beginning to end as they seek to (+1) their family. If you are, or have ever been, involved with domestic adoption then it will come as no surprise that this book will be an automatic 5-star for you. It illuminates the process in a uniquely real and honest way.
Beyond the thematic, I found the author's rendering of the story wonderfully sincere. I haven't bothered to look it up but it has a very autobiographical feel to it. If you told me that these were her own experiences put to paper I'd have no difficulty believing it. Gilmore is an accomplished writer and she puts on display for us the good-bad-and-ugly of the adoption process. I would characterize myself as not only entertained by this novel but also educated, though perhaps slightly more cynical for the effort.
On the not-entirely-positive side of this novel, as a male of the species and not even remotely considering adoption, this one left me a bit flat. It's obviously because I'm NOT the target demographic but I can see clearly the appeal this would have to the right subset of the population. For the last half of the novel I could feel one of two endings coming and as the interactions grew darker I saw real potential for making a significant statement about society. The ending was not the one I would have chosen but I can see the value of it. To say more would invite "spoilage" so I will simply leave it at that.Read more ›
Jesse wants a baby. A healthy girl, who she has prematurely named "Grace". This is rich, because "grace", the attribute, is exactly what Jesse, and this book is missing. Jesse has gone through infertility treatments and IVF procedures to no avail and she and Ramon have set out to adopt. This process turns out to be the most miserable and nefarious experience one could imagine. I had no idea, seriously. To say Jesse is obsessed with her mission is an understatement. She is determined not to enjoy even a second of her life until the pink bundle is placed in her empty and clueless arms. There will be no love, laughter, sunsets, beauty or contentment of any sort until IT happens.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A heartfelt book about the pains of infertility and adoption, I found it compulsively readable and relatable, even when I didn't particularly like the main character, Jesse. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Trish
While the author has some interesting and relevant observations about motherhood and what it means to be a mother, the message gets muddied because of the very unpleasant woman who... Read morePublished 13 months ago by pandora
I loved the way the reader travels with the author through her past and present. Very we'll written! Great book for adoptive mothers and birth mothers.Published 19 months ago by JMBL
Sometimes the writing tone isn't my favorite but I love how the author showed both the ups and downs of adoption.Published 19 months ago by Paige
Rather disappointing. Three reasons: 1) I am not a great dog lover, and there were was too much "dog" in the novel; 2) I'm offended by the term "Christmakah"'; her... Read morePublished 20 months ago by Mindy A. Portnoy
Did not enjoy it at all, kept reading it trying to see if I will get something out of it, did not finished it.Published 23 months ago by Molly B.
I was pretty disappointed in this book. The 2 main characters were not especially likable, and I really wanted to root for them in their quest to adopt a child. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Barbara L. Gregge
The Mothers is a wonderful book that I would encourage anyone who is a mother, or has an aspiration to be a mother to read. Read morePublished on February 8, 2014 by LKM