By Koren Zailckas
Published on September 17th 2013
Published by Crown
Source: Netgalley/blog tour
Published by Crown
Source: Netgalley/blog tour
When I read books like this, I think: who needs zombies or ghosts or paranormal scary things? Real life is scary enough. Mother, Mother is easily one of the most terrifying books I've ever read, and all it took was one dominating, abusive mother to do it.Josephine Hurst has her family under control. With two beautiful daughters, a brilliantly intelligent son, a tech-guru of a husband and a historical landmark home, her life is picture perfect. She has everything she wants; all she has to do is keep it that way. But living in this matriarch’s determinedly cheerful, yet subtly controlling domain hasn’t been easy for her family, and when her oldest daughter, Rose, runs off with a mysterious boyfriend, Josephine tightens her grip, gradually turning her flawless home into a darker sort of prison.
Resentful of her sister’s newfound freedom, Violet turns to eastern philosophy, hallucinogenic drugs, and extreme fasting, eventually landing herself in the psych ward. Meanwhile, her brother Will shrinks further into a world of self-doubt. Recently diagnosed with Aspergers and epilepsy, he’s separated from the other kids around town and is homeschooled to ensure his safety. Their father, Douglas, finds resolve in the bottom of the bottle—an addict craving his own chance to escape. Josephine struggles to maintain the family’s impeccable façade, but when a violent incident leads to a visit from child protective services, the truth about the Hursts might finally be revealed.
Written with the style, dark wit and shrewd psychological insight that made SMASHED a bestseller, Zailckas’s first novel is unforgettable. In the spirit of classic suspense novels by Shirley Jackson and Daphne DuMaurier, MOTHER, MOTHER is the terrifying and page-turning story of a mother’s love gone too far, and the introduction of a commanding new voice in fiction
This is a story of a family which looks perfect on the outside, but on the inside, they're all barely hanging on. We see events unfold through the alternating perspectives of Violet and Will, and with each chapter, we start to learn more devastating secrets that the Hurst family has been trying to hide. I don't want to talk too much about the plot, because I think it's most breathtaking whenever you don't know what's coming next. Bit by bit, you start to see past the perfect family facade that Josephine clings to, right up until the very end. At the very beginning, you start to get glimpses of the fact that Josephine isn't as perfect as she wants people to think she is, but it doesn't take very long for the real monster to reveal itself.
This is Zalickas' first novel (her previous two books are both non-fiction memoirs) and now I'm really interested in seeing what she comes up with next. She writes with a very authentic voice here, and really captures the slow, psychological horror that emotional abuse is. Like I mentioned, Josephine is horrific, terrifying, a nightmare, even more pointedly so because she can fly so easily under the radar. She is a master manipulator and the way she has trapped everyone around her is absolutely believable.
Violet and Will both have very distinct narrative voices, with Violet pulling away from the family and Will becoming even further entrenched, thanks to Josephine's manipulation. You can't help but feel for these kids and hope that they will get the help they need to make peace with their upbringing. The glimpses of the future that we do get in the story are unsurprising, given what we learn about each of the characters, but -- and I don't think this is a spoiler, really, in a book filled with real monsters -- if you're looking for happily ever after, you're not going to find it. Everyone Josephine touches is changed and damaged, and that's not an easy fix.
I read most of this book in one sitting, and stayed up a few hours past my bed time in order to finish it. The last 20% of the book is like a train that you can't stop as everything careens towards a crash ending. I wasn't totally sold on part of the ending -- there were some aspects that seemed a little too lucky, and then the final chapters were a bit much in the "here's what happened since" department -- but I definitely couldn't put this book down.
And for anyone who has ever said "but you have to love your family!" or who has wondered why people choose to distance themselves from their birth families, I recommend you give this book a whirl. Not every dysfunctional family upbringing is this extreme, but sometimes you need an extreme example to understand why people turn their backs on blood relatives.
Some of the themes of this book include severe emotional abuse, abortion, suicide, and drug/alcohol use, and there are a lot of scenes that could be triggering to readers, so be aware.
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