Friday, August 10, 2007

The Other Mother

Recently I was asked to review The Other Mother by Gwendolen Gross as part of the latest MotherTalk book tour. When the book arrived in the mail, I had a bunch of other book commitments and it sat in my pile for a couple of weeks but a few nights ago I started this book, and read it almost straight through, finishing it this morning. Intense would be the one word description for this book. Although I'm sure it's going to be marketed as a book about the mommy wars between work outside the home and stay at home moms, but this is so much more than that. In fact, that's almost a side feature of this book, which looks deeply inside the choices that women make once the become mothers.

This book has two narrators; Thea, the stay at home mother of three children, and Amanda, who moves in next door right before she is about to deliver her first child. Amanda works in the publishing field, and is on the path towards career success. Both mothers get to tell their side of the mommy war story, but this work is so much more than that. It delves into the fears that all mothers experience. Both mothers worry if they are good enough, if they are doing enough for their families, if they are choosing the right path as women.

Soon after Amanda's baby is born, a bad storm knocks a large tree into their new house, and Amanda's family must take refuge with her new neighbors. Thea puts up Amanda's family, but Amanda isn't the easiest houseguest. She refuses all help for the baby, she snoops through the cabinets and cupboards, she leaves a mess wherever she sits, and Thea becomes resentful. Amanda has made no plans on childcare for Malena, her infant, and after a series of disastrous tours of daycares and nanny interviews, she allows Thea to take Malena while she goes back to work.

Thea falls in love with Malena, who is an easy and delightful baby. Iris, Thea's toddler daughter is a very difficult and demanding child, and Malena fills the part of Thea that desires a baby to nurture. However, Amanda is a demanding and resentful employer. She doesn't like the way Thea is caring for her daughter, but does nothing to change the situation. Seething underneath their relationship is resentment for the choices each mother has made regarding work. Amanda isn't respectful of time, and is often very late to pick up her baby. She also is late in dropping Malena off, which makes Thea's life much more difficult. One night, Amanda does not call, is not reachable, and ends up not coming to pick up the baby until well after 9 pm. There had been an accident on the PATH train, and someone was killed on the tracks. Amanda is visibly upset, and rests her head on Thea's shoulder for comfort. The two women kiss, which destroys their relationship, as they are both unable to communicate their feelings to the other.

Thea's older daughter, a 13 year old who is good at cutting her parents out of her life, gets hurt on Amanda's property and is rushed to the hospital. Thea wants to blame Amanda, but realizes that this isn't really Amanda's fault, especially since Amanda's husband saved her daughter's life. Through a series of events, both women discover that they path they've chosen can be manipulated, altered, and improved, which brings them together as friends right after 9/11 almost kills one of their husbands.

This book is stressful to read. It is difficult because both women aren't particularly likable. As with any argument, they are zealots on either side, and don't really want to understand the other's point of view. But they did come together in the end, despite their differences, having both learned the art of compromise when it comes to mothering children.

I liked this book a lot. It was suspenseful, it was nerve wracking, and it had plenty of twists and turns to keep me interested right to the end. I wouldn't recommend this as a relaxing beach read, and it certainly isn't light chick lit. This is hard hitting fiction, well written and very well plotted. The characters aren't particularly likable, but isn't that true in life as well?


JaniceNW said...

Sounds like my kind of fiction. Yeah. Have you read Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes? Makes you think,isn't entertainment but is quite fascinating none the less.


Dayngr said...

Sounds like a really great book! I just might pick it up now.