We first meet Blythe Connor, the tormented mom who narrates “The Push,” as she’s sitting in her automobile at night time, watching her ex-husband’s home. Is she a stalker? Unhinged? Possibly. Via the glowing home windows, she spies her ex-husband, named Fox, dancing together with his second spouse (youthful, in fact) and enjoying with their cute toddler son. However what retains Blythe sitting on the market within the chilly and darkish is Violet, the daughter she and Fox share. Violet, now on the cusp of adolescence, is framed in one of many home windows, locking eyes with Blythe, the mom whose breakdown and banishment she orchestrated. Violet additionally killed a playmate and her youthful brother Sam, the son of Blythe and Fox.
“The Push” is structured as a manuscript that Blythe writes for Fox to set down her model of how their as soon as glad life collectively unraveled. (Blythe aspired to be a author earlier than the calls for of stay-at-home motherhood intervened.) However, since Blythe is the strolling contradiction of her title — a jittery, insecure lady who second-guesses herself continually — questions come up about her reliability as a narrator.
Blythe’s circle of relatives historical past complicates her story: Her abusive grandmother dedicated suicide, and her moody mom abandoned Blythe and her father with no backward look. “The ladies on this household . . . we’re completely different,” her mom flatly tells Blythe as a ba. Blythe worries she’s inherited broken DNA relating to mothering, particularly when she provides beginning to Violet and feels surprisingly unmoved this “heat, screaming loaf of bread” with “slimy and darkish” eyes who’s positioned on her chest to nurse.
Absolutely one of many causes “The Push” has turn out to be so common is that the manuscript construction of the novel permits Blythe to specific such uncensored emotions a couple of ba she dislikes (and, ultimately, involves concern). Audrain has a pointy ear for Mother’s playgroup conversations, the place the opposite moms start to vent irritations with their offspring, however then abruptly rein themselves again into niceness with platitudes like, “it’s all so value it once you see their little faces within the morning.” Blythe feels in another way about child Violet — whom she characterizes as emotionally chilly and harmful.
“I felt like the one mom on the earth who wouldn’t survive it . . . The one mom who couldn’t combat via the ache of new child gums reducing like razor blades on her nipples. The one mom who couldn’t fake to perform together with her mind within the vise of sleeplessness. The one mom who regarded down at her daughter and thought, Please, Go away.”
Unnerving, proper? Or possibly unnervingly trustworthy.
All ages has its personal parenting knowledge in addition to its shameful parental anxieties. Within the mid-1950s, when “The Unhealthy Seed” was revealed, there was rising debate over whether or not nature or nurture performed the bigger position in childhood growth, in addition to an uptick in curiosity within the causes of juvenile delinquency and adolescent gangs. (“West Aspect Story,” which debuted in 1957, was one other creative -product of this pattern). Maybe the gravity of that debate explains why March’s novel was nominated for the 1955 Nationwide Guide Award. That very same 12 months, the Broadway play based mostly on the novel was shortlisted for a Pulitzer (it misplaced out to “Cat on a Sizzling Tin Roof”). The 1956 film was nominated for a number of Academy Awards earlier than devolving right into a lurid ’80s remake with Lynn Redgrave and numerous Lifetime film imitators.
Now, like a nasty penny, the “Unhealthy Seed” plot has turned up once more. Why? Maybe Audrain’s novel is putting a nerve with a youthful technology of ladies exhausted the “monstrous,” pressures of up to date motherhood — “the push” to be unflagging, hands-on nurturers. (The ebook takes place in a hermetically sealed feminine world of playgrounds and “Mommy and Me” lessons; fathers get off simple on this novel as mere clueless adjuncts.) Definitely, “The Push,” like “The Unhealthy Seed,” is one other iteration of the character vs. nurture debate throughout a time once we’re extra fixated than ever on the facility of genes and the fates they inscribe. Regardless of the sources of its bigger cultural enchantment, “The Push” is an ingenious reincarnation of that the majority forbidden of suspense narratives: the mommy-in-peril-from-her-own-monstrous-offspring.
Maureen Corrigan, who’s the ebook critic for the NPR program Contemporary Air, teaches literature at Georgetown College.
Pamela Dorman Books. 320 pp. $26