The Push – Book Review
by Ashley Audrain
Published by: Pamela Dorman Books
Publish Date: 2021
Genre(s): Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Psychological Thriller
HB&W Rating: 5
View on Goodreads
Buy on Amazon: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository
Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had.
But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter–she doesn’t behave like most children do.
Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.
Then their son Sam is born–and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.
The Push is a tour de force you will read in a sitting, an utterly immersive novel that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about what we owe our children, and what it feels like when women are not believed.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
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You know, there’s a lot about ourselves that we can’t change–it’s just the way we’re born. But some parts of us are shaped by what we see. And how we’re treated by other people. How we’re made to feel.
Nature v nurture, the age old debate. What makes a good mother? If your mother was a no-show in your life, did that mean you were doomed to be a bad mother? Blythe’s mom left her and her dad when she was a little girl, and when her husband, Fox, starts talking babies, to say that Blythe has reservations about motherhood is an understatement, but she is desperate to keep Fox happy. Motherhood is hard, anyone will tell you that, but is it supposed to be THIS hard? And when tragedy strikes the family and the blame game starts, lines are drawn and sides are taken, for better or worse.
My mom lent me this book, saying that she saw it on Good Morning America and that the booksellers at Barnes & Noble really recommended it. I confess, I’d never heard of it and had zero clue what it was about and what to expect, but the synopsis sounded intriguing to me. A thriller focused around motherhood??? Okay, let’s see what this is about. If nothing else, it’s original and should provide plenty of topics of conversation for book club.
I’ve come here to give this to you. This is my side of the story.
Wow, just….wow. This book was just so good. I have SO MUCH to say about it beyond what I can put into this spoiler-free review and I cannot WAIT to discuss it during this month’s virtual book club, but for those considering whether or not to read this book, allow me to help you decide: read it.
Our society puts a lot of pressure on women to be the perfect mom. Even when we are aware of these outside influences, we are powerless to keep that niggling little voice in our head silenced when it comes to being a dutiful mom. We strive to be the “perfect” mom, caring yet firm, nurturing but fostering independence, a brood of kids and everything together, and always so thankful for every moment. I challenge you to be thankful when you go to get your child out of his crib after nap only to discover that he managed to both get his dirty diaper off and finger paint with his poo all over the crib and wall. Funny, yes, I even laughed out loud at the time, but thankful…maybe when he’s older and I can use it for blackmail…but I digress. The point is, society puts pressure on moms, but we put so much pressure on ourselves too. We want to create a magical childhood for our children, raising them to be kind, courteous, respectful, productive members of society. And the connection between a mother and her children, there’s nothing like it. But what happens when, for whatever reason, that connection just isn’t there, no matter how hard you try?
A mother’s heart breaks a million ways in her lifetime.
That’s what Blythe is constantly asking herself. Why can’t she seem to connect with her daughter the way she sees other moms connect with their infants? Why is she so angry all the time? Why does her daughter hate her? Does her daughter see her as a fraud of a mother?
Blythe’s mom skipped out on her father and her when she was a young girl. To say that it affected her on a psychological level is redundant, but with the emotional support of the woman next door she made the best of it, getting herself into college to become a writer, where she met her husband, Fox. Fox, it seemed, had the perfect mother to give him the perfect childhood, and naturally he wanted that perfect life for them as well. Recognizing that Blythe’s mom wasn’t in the picture and hadn’t been for a long time, and knowing that it had scarred her emotionally, he was understanding of her reticence at becoming a mother. Fox wanted it so badly and he seemed so sure of her success as a mom, so Blythe, wishing to maintain the picture of perfection, agreed. But like many mothers, it wasn’t as easy or natural as it was for others.
Mothers speak of time like it’s the only currency we know.
The baby has colic; it’s just the baby blues; don’t worry, it’s just a phase; it’s tough, but it’s worth it; this is a normal; just give it time…Blythe heard it all, but she had a strong feeling that there was just something else going on. As the baby grew, she still struggled to find that connection that comes so naturally to other moms, but her apparent inability to be a “good mom” was starting to strain her marriage. Hoping to mend the marriage, they become pregnant with another baby. And this time it is perfect. He’s perfect. The connection is perfect. Her reaction is perfect. But the funny thing about perfection…it does’t last.
The writing in this novel is great. There were so many clever passages that so succinctly summed up various aspects of motherhood and life, I found myself nodding along like, YES, so true! But also, Audrain just has a way with words that pulls all the right strings and pushes all the right buttons to make this story just punch you in the gut. From the sweet to the sad to the sinister, Audrain knew exactly what she was doing.
Blythe, poor Blythe. At the beginning, you don’t really know if it’s all in her head, just her psychosis at being left by her mother that is influencing her reactions to being a new mother. Certainly, in my experience with a child with moderate GERD, having an infant that screams almost 24/7 can be…taxing to say the least. Combined with the pressures she’s feeling both from her husband, the constant comparison to his mother, and her own expectations of herself, it seems like the perfect storm, and what saddens me is that her husband fails to really see it or do anything to help.
Time passes, but still the relationship between Blythe and her daughter, Violet, is strained and tense. It becomes harder when no one else really sees the things she sees, only her mother-in-law briefly, but sadly Blythe pushes her away, refusing her support lest she sees just how un-together Blythe is and because perfect moms need no help, they do it all on their own. There really is such a strong emphasis on perfection in the book, both overt and implied, and it parallels with motherhood, dare I say? Perfectly.
Blythe begins to question her ability to be a good mother, but then Sam comes along, and with him, everything that she never had with Violet. He is the shining light of her day, and her bond with him is everything she always hoped for with Violet. But when tragedy strikes, did Blythe see what she thought she saw? Or was it all in her head?
Marriages can float apart. Sometimes we don’t notice how far we’ve gone until all of a sudden, the water meets the horizon and it feels like we’ll never make it back.
In the wake of this tragedy, Blythe does what she can to speak up, to ask for help, but no one listens to her. They chalk it up to a woman’s hysteria and grief. Her adamant refusal to take her words back turn her into the villain in her own story. Her marriage falls apart, she’s isolated, and, still grief-stricken, becomes friends with an unlikely woman, who she then loses as well.
She had a brilliant, beautiful mind and sometimes I longed to be inside it. Even though I feared what I might find.
Would things have been different if Blythe had just made more of an effort, kept her suspicions to herself? Did her reaction to Violet’s apparent hatred of her from infancy alter the way Violet reacted to Blythe later? Or was it just in Violet’s nature to prefer her father (and pretty much everyone) over her mother from Day 1?
I hope you’ll join me for Books, WIPs, + Sips Book Club on Instagram Stories Live this coming Tuesday, June 29 at 7pm CST to discuss these questions and more! Join me and my guest host, Kaylin of Quiet Time Crafting Co as we sip some bevies, work on a project, and dish on this book. I hope to see you there!
*****Update 6/29/21: If you missed the discussion, catch the replay on IGTV or YouTube anytime!*****
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