The Push by Ashley Audrain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Blythe, mother to Violet and Sam, comes from two generations of dysfunctional families: Blythe’s mother, Cecilia left her husband and her child when Blythe was eleven. Blythe only ever saw her mother twice later on and never in a positive way.
Cecilia’s mother Etta (»born on the very same day World War II began«) – Blythe’s grandmother – suffered from a severe psychological disorder (possibly depression) that rendered her completely unable to care for herself and her family. In 1972, in her early thirties (roughly around the time Blythe must have been born), Etta took her own life.
When Fox Connor met Blythe during their late teens he’s immediately “smitten” and doesn’t hide it. From the very beginning Fox knows he wants to start a family with Blythe because he »love[s] what a good mother [she]’ll be one day« whereas Blythe is sceptical about motherhood from the start.
»She tried very hard to be the woman she was expected to be.
A good wife. A good mother.
Everything seemed like it would be just fine.«
(About Etta, right after we get to know about Blythe’s feelings…)
Nevertheless, Blythe and Fox marry each other and, indeed, »Everything seemed like it would be just fine.«. Ok, so, Blythe’s parents are absent from her wedding but that’s just a tiny thing. A small crack at most, eh?
Marriage at 25, set up for a happily ever after, pregnant with the first child, Violet, only a few years after (around 27) with Blythe »pretending I was perfect for you for years« (Fox being the “you”).
And this is how it starts… Blythe desperately tries to get rid of her absent mother Cecilia who still looms in the back of her mind. Cecilia, who had no chance to be a mother, whose own mother, Etta, born on the brink of the worst breach of humanness of the 20th century, who must have waged her own war against herself. Neither Etta nor Cecilia had a chance.
Regularly switching the perspective from Blythe’s – who delivers her side of the story as our narrator – to Cecilia’s and Etta’s in the past, we witness how the past subtly and almost invisibly helped shape current-day Blythe.
Blythe is haunted by her mother’s spectre, trying to fulfill a role, wanting to be anyone but her mother while having »thoughts most mothers don’t have«. Mirroring Etta, Blythe, too, develops small issues – like imagining a seven-months old Violet deliberately pushing her away.
Those small issues erode Blythe; one small droplet after another they wash away Blythe’s “substance” until a chasm, an abyss has been created that insurmountably separates Blythe from both her child and her husband.
Obviously, having another child – Sam – must be the solution… And things surprisingly do seem to get slightly better. Until something happens to Sam…
While at times we uncomfortably witness the issues of a mother who tries to be the best she can, from that point onward, things quickly erode. The short chapters make for a feeling of a fast pace even though Blythe’s unravelling, her true descent into something we like to call “madness” because it makes things easier for us, in truth it’s slow.
Only late in the book, barely before a certain revealing and unusual switch of perspectives, I suspected the truth of the matter…
It’s an eerie story, Audrain tells us. All the more frightening for its plausibility and its implications about all of us. About you and me.
There’s just one thing that mars this great book and that, of all things, is its final sentence. The healing that had begun can only come to a screeching halt after this. That sentence almost invalidates what came before it and only serves the author and not the story.
And yet: Five out of five stars.
P.S.: Thanks for the recommendation, Marta!
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The Push by Ashley Audrain