Book review: Debut novel offers unique narration style
“The Mothers,” by Brit Bennett
I would have never picked up this book, normally. But, the buzz surrounding “The Mothers” and its author, Brit Bennett, was too loud for me to ignore inside the bookstore. So, I read it. And I liked it.
This novel (the author’s first) is aptly named. Every sentence and every scene is tied back to motherhood. It is written from the collective perspective of geriatric church mothers from Upper Room Church. Bennett identifies the individual members more than half way through the book, but the character of and judgment by these women is communal. Their joint evaluations through many years focus on one young woman: Nadia Turner.
Nadia is interesting to the church mothers for a variety of reasons. First, Nadia is beautiful. Second, she physically resembles her mother, who unexpectedly committed suicide months before the narration begins. Finally, shi is not your typical church-going black girl. She is brash, incredibly smart and having sex with the pastor’s son, Luke.
The romance between Nadia and Luke is less than perfect and ends dramatically the summer before Nadia goes to college. In the aftermath of their love affair, Aubrey, the pious new girl to Upper Room, befriends the wild and angry Nadia. They are diametrically different, yet complement each other in the ways that only a strong female friendship can. The story follows Nadia, Aubrey and Luke as they age into their twenties and as each discovers aspects of themselves kept hidden since youth.
The major conflict of this novel centers on a complicated, hotly-debated issue that has political, personal and religious ramifications. Bennett attempts to narrate the issue from all sides, yet fails to fully recognize the power of her own voice. The narration flip-flops between being for and against the matter, ultimately leaving readers confused on her position at the novel’s conclusion.
Despite this setback, “The Mothers” is a great read for anyone interested in the formation, influence and power of motherhood. It allowed me to reflect on mothers in my own life; how my mothers have shaped me, guided me and, at times, abandoned me. I related to several of the characters because there were a variety of personalities. Bennett used no tropes or stereotypes to create her story about love and loss in the modern day.
This book is available at Bud Werner Memorial Library and Off the Beaten Path.
Victoria Oheygi is a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.
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