Ahoy there me mateys! Blustery winds and crazy seas are still severely limiting the time I have to read. So here be a Tidings post with a twist! The First Mate has been reading like a fiend. I
ordered asked him to write a review of something he recently read because I be going through withdraw and NEED to hear about books. At the end of his review I will decide whether the book is kept in the hold for me future reading pleasure or be keelhauled into the watery depths. Hope ye enjoy!
From the First Mate:
Though marketed as a thriller, The Need reminded me more of
Kathe Koja’s first body horror novel, The Cipher. While Koja’s
novel dealt with sacrificing one’s body to one’s art, Phillips’ novel
concerns itself with the way the pressures and demands of motherhood
can grind a person to dust. Both novels viscerally deal with the
physical strain of caring for one’s creation.
In The Need we follow Molly, a young mother with children aged
one and four, as she tries to balance being a mostly single parent
(her husband travels abroad for his job) with her career as a
paleobotanist at an unusual archaeological dig. Again, the novel is
very visceral in its descriptions of the bodily processes that
surround Molly’s life. There are many somewhat detailed sections
devoted to breastfeeding, pumping, scatology, and sleep deprivation.
We’re given insight into all of the ways that Molly feels inadequate
for failing to be everything to everyone. The responsibility for her
two children is presented as continuous, overwhelming, and ultimately
more than a little destructive.
Structurally The Need almost seems to mirror Molly’s crumbling
mental state. The narrative is told in a fragmented way that at times
doubles back on itself. There are many moments where it is difficult
to tell exactly when in the narrative something is happening. Due to
some of the narrative choices, one could even begin to wonder if some
of the parts of the narrative are even happening at all. We’re told
that Molly is sleep deprived and she’s long had a history of hearing
and/or seeing things that may not actually be there. As her life gets
weirder and weirder so does that structure of the narrative, leading
one to wonder just what is happening.
The lone thriller element appears in the first fifty pages of the
novel and is resolved with a twist that pushes the rest of the
narrative forward. The twist isn’t particularly surprising, and I’d
imagine that most readers will have figured out at least part of
what’s going on long before the reveal. What remains after the twist
is kind of an experimental examination of responsibility, motherhood,
and the burdens of our choices. There’s no resolution and the
narrative just kind of peters out towards the end.
I’ve long had a debate with myself that I’ve never been able to
satisfactorily answer. Which is more worthy: a creative work that
has ambitious goals and doesn’t quite achieve them or a creative work
that has modest goals and fully achieves them? Phillips seems to have
admirably ambitious goals here in portraying the needs of motherhood
using horror tropes and experimental narrative form. I don’t think
that the novel fully works, but I did find it interesting. I have
thought about it quite a lot after having read it. But then again, I
am very sympathetic to the horror of having the responsibility of
taking care of young children.
Recommended for readers looking for an imperfect lowkey horror novel
about motherhood. Avoid if you’re looking for a thriller or if frank
descriptions of bodily functions are intolerable.
Yer Captain’s Verdict:
KEELHAUL! Arrrr! This is actually a tough choice as it has been compared to the vegetarian which I adored. So I waffled on this and continue to waffle just a little. However the idea of pregnancy is abhorrent to me and would be like having a parasite. So I am not sure I can stomach body horror about breastfeeding and cleaning up shit. I can be sympathetic from afar. Ugh.
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
When Molly, home alone with her two young children, hears footsteps in the living room, she tries to convince herself it’s the sleep deprivation. She’s been hearing things these days. Startling at loud noises. Imagining the worst-case scenario. It’s what mothers do, she knows.
But then the footsteps come again, and she catches a glimpse of movement.
Suddenly Molly finds herself face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. As she attempts to protect those she loves most, Molly must also acknowledge her own frailty. Molly slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood: the ecstasy and the dread; the languor and the ferocity; the banality and the transcendence as the book hurtles toward a mind-bending conclusion.
In The Need, Helen Phillips has created a subversive, speculative thriller that comes to life through blazing, arresting prose and gorgeous, haunting imagery. Anointed as one of the most exciting fiction writers working today, The Need is a glorious celebration of the bizarre and beautiful nature of our everyday lives.
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