The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore

It’s tough to write a review of Jennifer Gilmore’s novel, The Mothers, without feeling emotionally compromised.

Babies have come to the people within my circle of family and friends in almost every way possible – through IVF and other assisted fertility treatments, through fostering, through Australian and overseas adoption and via sperm donation. My story is quite different and less fraught – we decided we wanted a baby and nine months later, my first was born. We repeated the exercise three more times. I never experienced longing for the seemingly unobtainable baby nor the disappointment of a negative pregnancy test. I felt incredibly blessed yet I was also keenly aware of the unfairness of the whole business of creating a family. Around me, friends and family members were struggling to have what had inexplicably come so easily to me. There was more than one occasion when I dreaded sharing our ‘happy’ news. Yet no matter how sensitive I was to the struggle others were having, I couldn’t exactly hide my pregnancies.  And of course all I wanted for my friends who were struggling to get pregnant, was a baby but to say that (particularly when I was pregnant) sounded glib. In fact, even writing this sounds glib. I was anything but that.

The Mothers picks at the scab of all of those feelings. It’s the story of Jesse and Ramon who, after giving up on IVF, turn to adoption. There’s bureaucratic red-tape, constant advice from friends, strangers, and ‘experts’; and meetings with potential birth-mothers. It’s an emotional roller-coaster as Jesse and Ramon’s hopes rise and are dashed, over and over again.

“But every kind of waiting, like each eskimo word for snow, like shame, has a different facet, a new slant of light.”

I didn’t like Jesse – she was self-centred, angry and a little hysterical. But who am I to judge, smug with four babies that came in a snap?

And ultimately, that’s what Gilmore does best in this book. She makes you question what makes a good mother, whether women ‘deserve’ to be mothers and what compromises women are willing to make in order to become a mother.

“If you cannot be a mother how do you fix the way in which you were mothered?”

My heart broke for Ramon  – trying to do the right thing, trying to remain positive and yet with his own (valid) feelings of helplessness and disappointment. There were many times in the story that I wanted to remind Jesse that ‘Fathers and potential-fathers have feelings too’.

A turn of events force an ending to this story but frustratingly, the emotional element of the conclusion was not explored in the way that it had for the majority of the book. As a result, the ending was abrupt and disjointed. It’s worth noting that the book was inspired by Gilmore’s own experiences.

I received my copy of The Mothers from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

2/5 Although I felt sympathy toward the main characters, I failed to connect.

The best foodie moment in The Mothers was a restaurant meal in South Carolina. All sorts of southern specialties were served up including ribs and collard greens. My pick is the Fried Green Tomatoes which, until searching for a recipe, I never realised were actually deep fried… I think I envisioned more of a saute arrangement. Anyway, properly cooked fried green tomatoes are now on my foodie-bucket-list.


For an excellent novel covering similar themes, check out The Comfort of Lies by Randy Susan Meyers.

5 responses

  1. As someone who went through IVF, this might be a tough read for me. I’m blessed with twins now, but it was a long hard road that pushed myself and my husband to the limit. I had a friend who was scared to tell me about her pregnancy when I was struggling, but I was always delighted with others’ happy news. The fact that they were having a baby didn’t change the possibility that I might one day.

  2. I never had any trouble either and I never know what to say when someone is. Both times we thought “let’s have a baby” I was pregnant two weeks later. We’re (very tentatively, so don’t hold me to it) planning on having our third and final baby in August of 2015. We’ll see how that goes…

    That being said, it is not a subject I like to read about (not that a 2/5 is likely to entice me to read it).

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