“The weight of what has been lost is always heavier than what remains.”
The Mothers is a powerful, moving picture of a how a secret can wreak havoc on a person, a family, a church, a community. An action that seems to only effect one person never does. Instead, even the smallest decisions can have far-reaching consequences, small ripples that grow into tidal waves.
“After a secret’s been told, everyone becomes a prophet.”
Nadia Turner is a Black girl with pain in her past and big things in her future. Her mother killed herself two years ago. Her father is still living in his grief, moving through life like a ghost. On top of it all, she just found out she’s pregnant, a product of her secret relationship with a pastor’s son, Luke Shepherd. She’s seventeen years old. Nadia is smart, too smart to let this baby ruin her life. She wants to go to college and see the world and be somebody, and refuses to make the same mistake she secretly believes drove her mother to suicide: keeping a child when it’s unwanted. And so, she makes the decision to get rid of it. This decision, one she struggled with, one she truly believed was private and personal, will still be sending shockwaves through her own life and the lives of others years into the future.
“…magic you wanted was a miracle, magic you didn’t want was a haunting.”
The majority of the chapters begin with a monologue from the collective Mothers, the older women of the church who watch life unfold around them with mingled concern and judgment. This inclusion feels very reminiscent of a Grecian chorus in some classical drama. They stand outside of time in a way, serving predominantly as observers passing along what they’ve seen from a future perspective, while the plot progresses more linearly through the perspective characters. These Mothers, who should be trying to fill the mother-shaped hole in Nadia’s life, instead stand apart to witness and pass judgment. But there comes a time when the Mothers can no longer maintain their separation and get involved in the action in their own way. Their interference also felt very true to that Grecian form, generally making things worse instead of better.
“All good secrets have a takes before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.”
I have to confess that, while I’ve always tried to read widely, I haven’t always read diversely. I don’t know whether this is an unintentional oversight on my part, or if I am subconsciously seeking comfort from the books I choose to read instead of growth. But in either case, I’ve realized this lack over recent years and have been trying to add more books by people of color, but specifically by Black women, into my reading queue. With everything going on in the world right now, that inclusion is becoming more and more purposeful. I’m so glad that decision led me to Brit Bennett.
“These are not her heartbreaks. Every heart is fractured different and she knows the pattern of her cracks, she traces them like lines across her palm.”
It’s wild to me that something this exquisitely written is a debut novel. I’ve read some truly stupendous debuts, and The Mothers is joining the ranks with the very best of those. Bennett has a beautiful, powerful way with words that manages to feel both profound and effortless in the same gorgeous sentences. There were layers of meaning packed into single thoughts, but those layers never felt forced or contrived in any way. While the story itself was fraught with heartache and hard choices, there’s an easy elegance to Bennett’s writing that is honestly astounding.
“Soft things can take a beating. But you push somethin’ hard a little bit and it shatters. You gotta be a soft thing in love. Hard love don’t last.”
The Mothers is a dynamic, stirring portrayal of Black life on a small scale. It demonstrates just how interwoven lives are, no matter how alone you feel, and a cautionary reminder that even the most personal decisions can effect the lives of others in unforeseen ways. I was incredibly moved by this novel, and am in awe of its craftsmanship. Everything Brit Bennett writes from here on out will immediately be added to my reading list.
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