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The Mothers: A Novel Hardcover – April 9, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Guest Review of “The Mothers”

By Meg Wolitzer

Meg WolitzerJennifer Gilmore

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).

From Booklist

Jesse and her husband, Ramon, are a world-traveled, well-educated professional couple who desperately long for a child. Now, after several years of failed IVF treatments, they have decided to adopt. They greet the decision with a sigh of relief, thinking they are just a few manageable steps away from their dream, but that’s before they discover the unique difficulties of the world of domestic adoption. From the interviews and the questions about race and religion to heartbreaking moments when they are scammed, the process turns out to be an arduous journey. For Ramon, the ordeal is frustrating, but for Jesse, the waiting is unbearable, and the grief each time they are not chosen by a birth mother weighs on her heavily. Gilmore does an excellent job of capturing Jesse’s raw and complex emotions, chronicling the strain on her marriage and her changing sense of self as she tries to remain hopeful while she waits. Tense and heartbreaking, with moments of surprising humor, this story about families, mothering, and love is both entertaining and thought-provoking. --Cortney Ophoff
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (April 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451697252
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451697254
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #385,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jennifer Gilmore's first novel, Golden Country (Scribner) was published in September '06 and in paperback (Harcourt) in 2007. The novel was a New York Times Notable Book of 2006, an Amazon.com Top Ten Debut Fiction of 2006, and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In this luminous novel,Gilmore considers those judgments one must endure to have a child once the biological option is closed. Hundreds of decisions and biological imperatives are considered by those in whose hands adoption rests. For Jesse and Ramon, her history of cancer has not only eliminated her biological ability, it has also served as a red flag by the officials of several potential native countries of adoptive children.

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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Anna S on May 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't stop reading Gilmore's tight, compelling story. There's an intimacy to the voice that makes you feel like you know this narrator, both her trials and her self-professed flaws, making her a complex and sympathetic heroine. A heartbreaking and generous book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rob Slaven TOP 50 REVIEWER on April 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Firstly, and as usual, I received this book for free in a GoodReads giveaway. Despite this kind consideration from author and publisher, I will proceed to be honest about it below.

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.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jenny on May 11, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found this book quite true to life, bearing in mind there's no one typical adoption experience, although I would have liked more detail at the end. Lots about the agency informational meetings, not so much about the birth families and what drove them. Long on policy and procedure, short on introspection, but overall an enjoyable book.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Spindrift VINE VOICE on May 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I feel I must begin my review with a disclaimer of sorts. I have not experienced infertility. I believe that this book is definitely one that will appeal to a certain demographic that does not include me. I chose to read this book because it received some attention from some pretty reliable sources that I usually trust, and I was fascinated by some of the blurbs that were extracted from the text concerning motherhood. I am a mother. Jennifer Gilmore asks the reader how a woman might re-create her own childhood, "fix it", so to speak, if she is to never become a mother. I found this question exponentially compelling. Unfortunately, our protagonist, Jesse, isn't nearly as philosophical and introspective as the author, so this existential quandary never really is addressed in "The Mothers: A Novel". I could not shake the feeling throughout that this should have been a non-fiction book. Jesse presents as being rather spoiled, soulless, and absolutely hysterical. Her husband, Ramon, is beside himself, wondering, I am convinced, how he ever got into this mess.

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.
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