I read The Mothers on a beach vacation in Michigan. There was plenty of deck time overlooking the lake, very relaxing! And it was a good beach read… I think. I guess I’m still not sure of my final thoughts. I definitely looked forward to picking it back up each day, I was eager to see where the story went, and I was invested in the characters.
Bennett wrote very full characters and immersed you in their lives (Nadia, Luke and Aubrey). Sure, at times it was a little predictable, but I guess going into it you expect there to be a love triangle with some predictable conflict. And although not too much happens to these characters, Bennett’s writing style turns what seem like simple events into significant and meaningful turning points. I enjoyed her writing style, but I guess I didn’t like the story? Maybe that’s where I struggle.
The story circles around Nadia’s abortion at age 17 and the ripple effects. And I guess my question is; can you really write about the choice to terminate a pregnancy, its effects, and not take on the task of making a statement about abortion?
It felt like Bennett wasn’t trying to make any grand statements. Although abortion was the anchor in her storyline, it seemed written with an aversion to the pro-choice/pro-life argument. The opinions from Nadia’s family, the father of the child, her church community, The Mothers, are given freely. And they’re all disapproving. But I didn’t feel like Nadia, the one whose choice it was, ever gives her opinion. Yes, she makes the choice to terminate her pregnancy. Yes, she goes on to travel, study, and pursue dreams. But the character never explicitly (or implicitly in my opinion) states her feelings on her decision. And if you’re writing an entire story that centers on this one choice, it’s successes and in this case mostly failures, shouldn’t your protagonist at least express an opinion on the outcome? The most we get is, “No one made me do anything. I didn’t want a baby.” The absence of conviction from Nadia just made the book feel like one non-committal commentary on abortion. Although if we’re to take Bennett’s presumed statement from the verbose reactions of Nadia’s community the message is fairly negative considering all the disapproval and Nadia’s undefined achievements.
“… the difference: magic you wanted was a miracle,
magic you didn’t want was a haunting.”
There were also some missing links… what was Nadia’s mother’s story? Why did she end her life, and why didn’t Nadia care to know why? I wanted to know! What did Nadia ultimately do with her career? Did she find closure and fulfillment? And why the weird soldier wrench in Aubrey’s storyline? Was it just to put a slight dent in her girl-next-door armor?
Overall I loved the writing. I’d definitely read another Brit Bennett book. But the story frustrated me. I wanted more conviction, passion, purpose. One way or the other. It didn’t have to align with my views, but I felt like without giving the protagonist her resolution or voice on the matter, the book was missing the climax it was driving toward. But maybe that’s the point?