Motherest is an inventive and moving coming-of-age novel that captures the pain of fractured family life, the heat of new love, and the particular magic of the female friendship-all through the jagged lens of a fraying daughter-mother bond.
That is to say: very character driven with virtually no plot, just like I love ‘em.
Speaking of, here’s a list of things enraptured me about this forthcoming novel:
- it involves, to quote the author, mothers and daughters, letters and visions, and a sort of steady stream of existential despair. (Aka my favorite things.)
- each chapter was ended with a letter addressed to her mom. And since the chapters are quite short, it made for a swift read.
- deadpan delivery. I laughed out loud more than I was anticipating, which was an entirely welcoming feeling.
“Mary”—she speaks more loudly now—“you remember what Uncle Bill’s idea of a good time was, don’t you? Bill being my husband,” she addresses the room. “Excuse me, my dead husband. Thirty minutes on the toilet with a Q-tip in each ear. May he rest in peace.”
Aunt Teeny was something else…
- specific as hell writing style that captures those perfect little moments.
Take for instance this next exchange between Agnes and her college roommate, Surprise (yes, that’s really her name):
“Surprise asked me, “Is it okay if we don’t talk in the morning? Like not even ‘hey’ or ‘have a good day’?” Then she told me a story about how her dad used to drive her to school, and he’d have on talk radio, and he’d ask her little questions, and one day she sort of blew up, snapped off the radio, and told him that she wasn’t awake yet, and she just wanted it to be quiet. They drove in silence for the next two years, but she said she felt so guilt-ridden that they might as well have been talking. “It was so loud inside my head, you know?”
I love how real this novel feels. Like, I can actually picture this scene (and many others) so vividly in head.
Or this little moment with a crush that is #relatable:
I keep walking. He slows down a little as if to chat, and I move faster. I want to turn around so badly that walking feels like pushing through the heaviest revolving door in the world, but I keep going.”
I’m was as impressed with the specificity as Sana in this gif.
- superb characterization for the main character. From lonely, morbid and frightened eighteen-year-old to independent, loving and loved nineteen-year-old.
- it’s a quiet kind of novel that tackles issues such as abandonment, sibling relationships, suicide, anorexia (briefly), fierce and easy female friendships, pregnancy scares, sexism, motherhood, and so much more.
- Oh, and it’s important to note that this is set around the year 1994, which I didn’t realize until I was halfway through.
But what seems to happen almost regularly with character-driven novels for me is that my interest begins to wane the more we get into the story. And for the life of me I cannot guess why. It’s not as if something drastically changed or someone new got introduced that I didn’t like… But I just seemed to slowly but steadily lose my focus while reading the first 100 pages. Maybe it didn’t help that this book didn’t have an foreseeable plot, so my interest depended a lot on the characters. And with Agnes not being the best at captivating my attention after about a 100 pages into it, I was left lost at what to do.
In the end, I was sucked back into this story when something unexpected happened to the main character. It was fascinating for me to, in a sense, join Agnes on such a personal journey. Also, since I hadn’t read about the aforementioned topic (desperately trying to avoid spoilers here) being discussed so openly, thoroughly and intimately in a novel before, it made for an even more compelling. I genuinely felt like I was right there holding her hand while spouting encouraging things. This kid needed a mom friend in her life asap.
“I want a friend. I miss everyone I’ve ever known. I miss Tea Rose and Surprise and Joan. I miss that part of my life that happened not so long ago but that already feels ancient, older than my childhood, and I do miss my childhood also, or at least the childhood co-created by my memory. I want someone who will always stay and never die and never leave and never turn into a ghost.”
So I was damn grateful when Agnes found the right support system for her.
“Maybe this is how groups like this work. You feel better about yourself because other people’s problems seem worse. You stop thinking, for a few minutes, about your own shit, because someone else’s is more lurid, more interesting. Maybe the expectation isn’t healing, but rather gaining perspective. Your problems don’t get solved. They get placed.”
Not only support groups, books and tv shows too. I find it intoxicating when I get caught up on other people’s problems and forget about my own.
All I can say is that with having watched the newest Grey’s Anatomy episode (which consequently became my all time favorite episode –13X10), I was loving this part of the book even more.
And I would also go out and say that this book was a revelation for me. I was expecting it to go one way and when it didn’t, I was pleasantly taken by surprise. Motherest ended up being such a meaningful and emotional read. And I’m eternally grateful that it didn’t go down the road I had paved in my head. Instead, the journey it did take, full of ups and down, made me feel genuinely proud of having “known” Agnes. Getting to see her coming of age and dealing with whatever life threw her way, left me feeling like a proud mother watching her baby take their first steps.
“How can mothers not feel superhuman?”
This novel is also achingly real. I felt everything the main character went through. The angst and tears and betrayal and hope… I went through it all. And I applaud the author for creating such a realistic atmosphere. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve been this engrossed with a novel, but it’s almost impossible not to think of it every waking minute. So now I’m more than eager for any forthcoming works by Kristen Iskandrian.
P.S. I cried, hard but quietly at that ending; the last sentence.
However, with all the many, many positives, I do want to mention that I had issues with the way the ending was so rapidly concluded and left with a few loose ends. Also, the cultural appropriation (white person with blond dreadlocks), and the usage of a slur threw me for a loop. I’m not sure why the author decided to include them… but since I’m reading an ARC, I’m hoping this will get either corrected or properly addressed in text by the publishing date.
ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Expected publication: August 1st, 2017