Thursday, March 30, 2017

Book Review - The Mothers by Brit Bennett

In The Mothers, the reader follows 17 year old Nadia Turner, her family, and the church community in which her family are members, in their Southern California seaside town.  The church, called Upper Room, is led by a steady, serious, compassionate Pastor Sheppard.  His wife takes charge of the day-to-day running of the church, along with a team from the congregation.  The couple have a 21-year old son, Luke, who - at the opening of the novel - has had an experience that forced him to leave college and take work at a local beachside restaurant.

Nadia's mother has just died, and this tragedy affects her and her father in profound ways.  Her father becomes dedicated to helping out Upper Room in any way he can, because his wife loved the church so much.  He has a favorite pickup truck, and volunteers to transport/haul/etc. whenever someone has a need.  He is often out of the house, leaving Nadia to fend for herself.  In response to her mother's passing, she becomes wild and promiscuous, eventually forming a romantic relationship with Luke Sheppard.  Nadia eventually becomes pregnant, and the two must make a decision about what to do next.  The fallout from this decision follows them throughout their lives, and affects their friends, family, and ultimately all of Upper Room.

One of the interesting aspects of this novel is the author's use of Greek chorus.  At the beginning of each chapter this chorus, which is made up of the elder female members of Upper Room, comments vaguely on the action that will take place throughout the rest of the chapter.  The voice is terribly gossipy, judgmental, and quite accurately portrays the collective voice of "church ladies" who might be found in any modern congregation.

This Greek chorus is one source of the book's title.  They refer to themselves as "The Mothers" and are titled "Mother" instead of "Ms./Mrs." by Upper Room's other congregants.  Nadia herself becomes a mother during her relationship with Luke.  Nadia's deceased mother, as well as Luke's mother, loom large throughout the story, whether in memory or in the present.  There are many themes and incantations of mothers and mothering throughout the novel.

I also listened to this as an audiobook, and I would highly recommend it.  The narrator does a superb job of voicing children, men, teenagers, women, and especially the Greek chorus.  I had no problem deciphering between characters, or keeping up with the plot, because the narration was so engaging.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Mothers, and was intrigued not only by its storytelling techniques but also how the author treated the relationships between parents and children, men and women, and church culture.  It demonstrates how acutely a decision can affect not only the people who make it, but their entire community.

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