Motherhood is an age-old profession and comes in for its (un)fair share of scrutiny from society. Motherhood is supposed to be a lifelong commitment, an act that doesn’t get to punch a clock, that doesn’t stop when the mother goes to bed and closes her eyes. She is not released from motherhood just because her children leave the nest. Balancing the job (one that still leaves women unpaid for it) with work and personal time is still an exhausting proposition.
This novel delves into the issues of motherhood, how it can seem like thankless labor and a source of love, holding endless opportunities for joy and terror alike. The mothers in this book take polarizing views on how to deal with children, viewpoints that can lead to cries of relief from women who worry that they’re not doing enough or hostility from others who feel that certain women just don’t belong to the club.
Motherhood as a club? Oh, you bet. It comes complete with competition, backbiting, gossip, scandal and superiority from those who think they have a firm handle on it and others had better follow their lead—or else. You might be a mother in this club. You probably know mothers like this. Either way, this book holds up a mirror to this common, age-old labor and probes deeply into how society judges who is and isn’t a “good” mother.
The central plot is a tense drama about two women battling in and out of court when one child recovers from a deadly bout of measles and the other does not. The issue of vaccination comes under fire along with media attention, small-town opprobrium and the interference of onlookers.
The introduction of a deus ex machina in the last act struck me as being an old-fashioned dodge, something out of an 17th- or 18th-century play. It both leaves the judgment of the trial in the reader’s lap and resolves the plot a little too neatly. It doesn’t bring a happy ending per se—the lives of both women have been severely derailed because of a devastating illness—but it is an abrupt denouement to the story.
For readers who would have preferred a decision on either side of the debate, this story may dissatisfy. But for others who appreciate how the book forces one to deliberate on the subject, this novel provides a very weighty subject to occupy the mind.