Book of the Month: The Push by Ashley Audrain

Hi people and welcome to another installment of Book of the Month. Are we going to have two books this month to make up for the lack of last month's? Well, I hope so. So many the great books out there, yet, so little the time to read much less write about them. Hmmph. 


Let’s get into it. The Push is a story about Blythe Connor’s reluctant journey to motherhood and how her experience of motherhood is nothing like she hoped, but everything she feared. We are also taken on a journey of the making and unraveling of a family. When we first meet Blythe, a tormented mother (to say the least), she is sitting inside her car at night and watching her ex-husband (Fox) with his new (and younger) wife, their little son, and the daughter Blythe shares with Fox. This daughter, Violet, locks eyes with Blythe in the moment and as we will later realize orchestrates her own mother’s unraveling. 




The novel is written as a manuscript Blythe writes for Fox to describe her own version of events leading from when they first met until the current moment. However, the story is interwoven with Blythe’s own maternal lineage and the curse that seems to plague the women in their family. Her own mother abandoned her when she was 11, after years of abusing and neglecting her. Her grandmother was similarly abusive towards Blythe's mom, and left in an even more macabre way: she hung herself in front of the house. So much of this foreshadowing by her progenitors suggests that she never had a chance. But didn’t she? This psychological suspense tale that will leave you on the edge of your seat from the first page to the shocking—or maybe a little expected—end unpacks this amongst several other themes. 


A lot of people have talked about Blythe’s reliability as a narrator given her own issues. I have to say, I believe her one hundred percent. All of it. I also believe despite some of the postpartum issues; despite Blythe herself admitting her disappointment at motherhood; and despite some of her own carelessness, I still believe (and call me na├»ve) she meant well, she meant to be a good mom. I say this knowing that she does go off the rails at some point, especially all that nonsense she did befriending Gemma. But that is the beauty of this book. On the one hand, Blythe’s frustrations with motherhood (especially in contrast to the narrative [forced upon women] of motherhood as pure bliss and sainthood) is relatable and understandable. On the other, she is maddening, slow to act, and just borderline irritating with the jitters.


I don’t know how to talk about this book without giving spoilers. But Audrain writes this book so spectacularly well, leaving the reader to tether on the brink of the mystery regarding the age old nature versus nurture tussle as we watch Violet increasingly become a nightmare. 


Before I go on, the real villain in this book is Fox. I said what I said. He is a toxic, patriarchal, gaslighting, coddled moron


Now that that’s out. While this book has been described as a “mystery” or a “thriller”, I am not quite sure those are apt descriptions. It seems to be more of a literary fiction with psychological themes than a mystery or thriller. The consequences of this wrong labelling are two folds. First, there are those like me who hear “thriller” “mystery” “horror” and are immediately put off. I almost didn’t read it for that reason. (I suppose the good part is I did go in with very low expectations and expected it to be something I would put down or not even finish). Then we have those who go in because they want to read a thriller or mystery or horror and are disappointed when they realize this isn’t quite that. This is especially because the beginning of the novel really set the stage for an intense thriller and you flip the page, it becomes your regular juicy fiction, albeit with strong, important themes like motherhood, intergenerational trauma, the miniscule moments that lead to the disintegration of a marriage (or any relationship for that matter), parental grief. But for the rave reviews, I may not have read it. And I’m glad I caved.


This is an utterly addictive, and intriguing page turner of a book that sucks you in. I read most of it in about two sittings or thereabout. I didn’t even take notes or pause to reflect; it was such a compulsive read in that sense. 


One underlying issue that I haven’t quite seen brought up elsewhere is the importance of agency. I think a lot of what happened was because Blythe was so dependent on Fox for everything; sustenance, money, love, and even validation. Fox knew this and he used this.  


I haven’t read a book in a while that didn’t meander about places and cities and houses, but instead just focused on the story. I truly enjoyed and appreciated that. I also do not think I have ever read a book completely written in second person like so and it was adeptly done.


The thing that haunted me the most in this book was the sheer amount of gaslighting Blythe experienced. People never believe or take women seriously. And by people, I mean everyone: spouses, bosses, healthcare professionals, plumbers, carpenters, politicians. Literally everyone. They call us dramatic; they say we are over exaggerating; they call us liars. or worst of all, they call us hysterical in the midst of searing pain. They find words to twist our reality so much we even begin to doubt ourselves. 


In a lot of ways, this book deals with that.


I have no doubt you will enjoy this book or at the very least, you will learn something.


Love,


I


2 comments

  1. It was an amazing book and could not put it down. I liked how it explored that sometimes post-partum isn't how we envision it to be and that it can be hard for new mothers. And I agree, the true villain was Fox! The gaslighting and manipulation.

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