I started reading this book after a friend challenged me to mini book club. I thought it would be an interesting take on motherhood, perhaps essays, although the title calls itself an essay, singular, which reads, in hindsight, as pretentious as it is by no means an essay, and is, at the very least, essaysss. This books is basically theory, with some fairly dense analysis and criticism, but also some accessible hot takes and also slow burning takes mixed in.
The perks of this book are in some of the one liners, which I’ll share below. Her literary knowledge of mothers is vast and deep and fascinating. I found myself wanting to read all of the literary works she mentions, something that would take me years. I always (and will continue to) return to de Beauvoir and Rich.
The drawback of the book is only that it was more academic than I was hoping, something that might be reconciled by a more accurate title. I did not always understand the connection between mothering and immigration, although that connection is made frequently throughout the book. This was especially true for me in the first chapter. I found myself arguing—aren’t immigrant mothers the most sympathetic of all immigrants? This point felt underdeveloped to me throughout the book. Also, I felt that, based on my own experience, the dogged connection between breastfeeding and eroticism was a stretch and over-developed.
Even still, I appreciated the vulnerability and honesty throughout the entire book. It’s really like no other and tells a story of matrescence that is important, but rarely told. For me, motherhood has required me to be an almost entirely different person. Giving up such a huge sense of self is the sacrifice that seems too great and also unnecessary. Nothing could prepare me for how much I would change, would be forced to change in order to survive, and how that change felt inevitable, and necessary, and okay, and part of my life’s path and development, but also, in many ways, a jarring loss.
Overall, if you’re doing scholarship in motherhood, this is a must read. I may even be able to use some gems in my own scholarship, which is often, just adjacent, although I haven’t isolated any yet.
Here are a few lines/questions worth returning to:
“[W]hat are mothers being asked to carry, what forms of failure and injustice are they made accountable for, above all, in the modern Western world?” (37).
(Indeed, I have found the motherhood to be too demanding, asking too much, and unnecessarily so. With a better social network, motherhood could be vastly improved for (most) women.)
“We talk of a mother’s suffocating love. But the one in danger of being smothered by love might not be the infant but, under the weight of such a demand, the mother” (81).
“For several yars she has tried in vain to adapt to his point of view, to her mother-in-law’s exacting standards and ‘to all the unintelligible ritual with which they barricaded themselves against the alarming business of living’” (99).
(I just thought this was a profoundly accurate description of how I perceive some people to be doing life. (I have been wrong in my interpretations of this though.))
“[T]he child’s demands drive the mother to insane perfection; the inconsiderate child underscores the radical neglect of her own life” (187).
(I don’t think it can be helped.)
“‘[H]is implanting himself inside me; unreasonably and totally destroying the me I was’” (206).