The push A novel

Ashley Audrain, 1982-

Book - 2021

"A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family, about a woman whose experience of motherhood is nothing at all what she hoped for--and everything she feared. Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting, supportive 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--Violet rejects her mother, screams uncontrollably, and becomes a disturbing, disruptive presence at her preschool. Or is it all in Blythe's head? Her husband, Fox, says she's imagining things. What he sees is an overwhelmed wife who can't cope with the day-to-day grind.... 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 natural, 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. Here, we see the making and breaking of a family in crystalline detail, and what it feels like when women are not believed. The Push is a tour de force you will read in a sitting, an utterly immersive pageturner that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about our children, and about what happens behind the doors of even the most perfect-looking families. . "--

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Suspense fiction
Domestic fiction
Psychological fiction
Thrillers (Fiction)
[New York] : Pamela Dorman Books/Viking [2021]
Main Author
Ashley Audrain, 1982- (author)
Physical Description
pages cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Generations of conflicted mother-daughter relationships culminate with one unhappy woman and her possibly dangerous daughter in Canadian writer Audrain's unnerving, cannily structured debut. As the book opens, thirtysomething narrator Blythe stands outside the home of her ex-husband and his new wife, looking in at their life. Most of the novel is directed from her to him, giving her side of their shared story, while shorter vignettes look back at her childhood and at the lives of her disturbed mother and suicidal maternal grandmother. Feeling unloved by her mother, who left the family when Blythe was 11 and never looked back, Blythe fears having a daughter of her own. When she gives birth to Violet and is unable to bond with her, her fears multiply. While she fiercely loves the son born a few years later, her relationship with Violet remains fraught, and when a tragedy takes place, it cannot recover. Both an absorbing thriller and an intense, profound look at the heartbreaking ways motherhood can go wrong, this is sure to provoke discussion.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Growing up as the latest link in a long chain of toxic mother-daughter dyads, aspiring writer Blythe, the narrator of Audrain's emotionally devastating debut, has no desire for parenthood herself, until she falls for gentle, supportive Fox Connor, who can't imagine not having kids and convinces her otherwise. Daughter Violet's birth three years later starts the clock ticking toward the implosion of the couple's marriage. In the eyes of Fox, who is away most of the day at work, Violet's an angel; to exhausted and overwhelmed Blythe, there's something fundamentally wrong with the baby. Or is there? As Blythe worries over the years that Violet lacks normal feelings of empathy and affection, concerns that Fox keeps dismissing as only in her head, things continue to deteriorate until, desperate not to lose Fox, Blythe becomes pregnant again. Son Sam's arrival blindsides her: to her astonishment, she loves Sam ecstatically. A tragedy precipitated by seven-year-old Violet is by no means the end of the twisty, harrowing ride to the dark side of motherhood Audrain pilots so skillfully. This is a sterling addition to the burgeoning canon of bad seed suspense, from an arrestingly original new voice. Agent: Madeleine Milburn, Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency.

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Review by Library Journal Review

DEBUT Three generations of women deal with motherhood in this dark debut. Blythe's mother, Cecelia, left when she was 11 years old, and Blythe decides she shouldn't have children, as Cecelia wasn't a good role model. Their toxic relationship pales in comparison with Cecelia's relationship with her mother, Etta. Fox, Blythe's gentle husband of three years, persuades her that it is time to have a baby. But Blythe can't connect with their daughter, Violet, although Fox is immediately enamored. As Blythe sinks into depression, Fox is convinced that she just doesn't love the baby enough. Blythe sees behavioral issues in Violet that increase as the girl starts school, but Fox turns a blind eye. Then Blythe has a son, Sam, and her maternal feelings for him are real and deep. Things still aren't good with Violet, though, or with the marriage, and a tragic accident causes Blythe and Fox's relationship to implode. This is not your typical tale of motherhood, and the superlative writing results in a gripping, unforgettable story. VERDICT For readers who enjoyed the darkness of Oyinkan Braithwaite's My Sister, the Serial Killer, Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen, or Joyce Carol Oates's Jack of Spades.--Stacy Alesi, Eugene M. & Christine E. Lynn Lib., Lynn Univ., Boca Raton, FL

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A finely wrought psychological study of motherhood and inherited trauma. Blythe stands outside, watching a perfect family as they move through the small joys of their Christmas Eve preparations. She has come to deliver her written story, one that occasionally includes flashbacks to her mother's and grandmother's lives, so that she may explain to this family--her former husband, his second wife, their child, and, most of all, Blythe's own daughter--what went wrong. The book that unfolds is this novel, and while it begins with a college meet-cute between Blythe and Fox, it truly begins with the story of Etta, who "tried very hard to be the woman she was expected to be" but battled depression that eventually led to suicide, and her daughter, Cecilia, who left altogether when Blythe was 11. Interweaving memories of her life with Fox and their daughter, Violet, with the memories and voices of these two women is meant to establish a pattern: Because she comes from a line of struggling mothers, Blythe herself could only expect to struggle as a mother, and struggle she does. Violet is a difficult baby who becomes a troubled child, but Fox sees little evidence of her problems and blames Blythe for not loving her enough. When they have a son who dies in infancy, in a terrible accident, their marriage falls apart. Blythe continues to worry for, and even fear, Violet, and then her loneliness drives her to befriend Fox's new wife. Her delivery of the pages of her story on that frosty Christmas Eve is meant as both repentance and warning; she fears that Gemma and Fox's son could be in danger from Violet. A novel written for and about mothers but not for the faint of heart; it offers no easy answers. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

1 You slid your chair over and tapped my textbook with the end of your pencil and I stared at the page, hesitant to look up. "Hello?" I had answered you like a phone call. This made you laugh. And so we sat there, giggling, two strangers in a school library, studying for the same elective subject. There must have been hundreds of students in the class-I had never seen you before. The curls in your hair fell over your eyes and you twirled them with your pencil. You had such a peculiar name. You walked me home later in the afternoon and we were quiet with each other. You didn't hide how smitten you were, smiling right at me every so often; I looked away each time. I had never experienced attention like that from anyone before. You kissed my hand outside my dorm and this made us laugh all over again. Soon we were twenty-one and we were inseparable. We had less than a year left until we graduated. We spent it sleeping together in my raft of a dorm bed, and studying at opposite ends of the couch with our legs intertwined. We'd go out to the bar with your friends, but we always ended up home early, in bed, in the novelty of each other's warmth. I barely drank, and you'd had enough of the party scene-you only wanted me. Nobody in my world seemed to mind much. I had a small circle of friends who were more like acquaintances. I was so focused on maintaining my grades for my scholarship that I didn't have the time or the interest for a typical college social life. I suppose I hadn't grown very close to anyone in those years, not until I met you. You offered me something different. We slipped out of the social orbit and were happily all each other needed. The comfort I found in you was consuming-I had nothing when I met you, and so you effortlessly became my everything. This didn't mean you weren't worthy of it-you were. You were gentle and thoughtful and supportive. You were the first person I'd told that I wanted to be a writer, and you replied, "I can't imagine you being anyone else." I reveled in the way girls looked at us, like they had something to be jealous about. I smelled your head of waxy dark hair while you slept at night and traced the line of your fuzzy jaw to wake you up in the morning. You were an addiction. For my birthday, you wrote down one hundred things you loved about me. 14. I love that you snore a little bit right when you fall asleep. 27. I love the beautiful way you write. 39. I love tracing my name on your back. 59. I love sharing a muffin with you on the way to class. 72. I love the mood you wake up in on Sundays. 80. I love watching you finish a good book and then hold it to your chest at the end. 92. I love what a good mother you'll be one day. "Why do you think I'll be a good mother?" I put down the list and felt for a moment like maybe you didn't know me at all. "Why wouldn't you be a good mother?" You poked me playfully in the belly. "You're caring. And sweet. I can't wait to have little babies with you." There was nothing to do but force myself to smile. I'd never met someone with a heart as eager as yours. One day you'll understand, Blythe. The women in this family . . . we're different. I can still see my mother's tangerine lipstick on the cigarette filter. The ash falling into the cup, swimming in the last sip of my orange juice. The smell of my burnt toast. You only asked about my mother, Cecilia, on a few occasions. I told you only the facts: (1) she left when I was eleven years old, (2) I only ever saw her twice after that, and (3) I had no idea where she was. You knew I was holding back more, but you never pressed-you were scared of what you might hear. I understood. We're all entitled to have certain expectations of each other and of ourselves. Motherhood is no different. We all expect to have, and to marry, and to be, good mothers. 1939-1958 Etta was born on the very same day World War II began. She had eyes like the Atlantic Ocean and was red-faced and pudgy from the beginning. She fell in love with the first boy she ever met, the town doctor's son. His name was Louis, and he was polite and well spoken, not common among the boys she knew, and he wasn't the type to care that Etta hadn't been born with the luck of good looks. Louis walked Etta to school with one hand behind his back, from their very first day of school to their last. And Etta was charmed by things like that. Her family owned hundreds of acres of cornfields. When Etta turned eighteen and told her father she wanted to marry Louis, he insisted his new son-in-law had to learn how to farm. He had no sons of his own, and he wanted Louis to take over the family business. But Etta thought her father just wanted to prove a point to the young man: farming was hard and respectable work. It wasn't for the weak. And it certainly wasn't for an intellectual. Etta had chosen someone who was nothing like her father. Louis had planned to be a doctor like his own father was, and had a scholarship waiting for medical school. But he wanted Etta's hand in marriage more than he wanted a medical license. Despite Etta's pleas to take it easy on him, her father worked Louis to the bone. He was up at four o'clock every morning and out into the dewy fields. Four in the morning until dusk, and as Etta liked to remind people, he never complained once. Louis sold the medical bag and textbooks that his own father had passed down to him, and he put the money in a jar on their kitchen counter. He told Etta it was the start of a college fund for their future children. Etta thought this said a lot about the selfless kind of man he was. One fall day, before the sun rose, Louis was severed by the beater on a silage wagon. He bled to death, alone in the cornfield. Etta's father found him and sent her to cover up the body with a tarp from the barn. She carried Louis's mangled leg back to the farmhouse and threw it at her father's head while he was filling a bucket of water meant to wash away the blood on the wagon. She hadn't told her family yet about the child growing inside her. She was a big woman, seventy pounds overweight, and hid the pregnancy well. The baby girl, Cecilia, was born four months later on the kitchen floor in the middle of a snowstorm. Etta stared at the jar of money on the counter above her while she pushed the baby out. Etta and Cecilia lived quietly at the farmhouse and rarely ventured into town. When they did, it wasn't hard to hear everyone's whispers about the woman who "suffered from the nerves." In those days, not much more was said-not much more was suspected. Louis's father gave Etta's mother a regular supply of sedatives to give to Etta as she saw fit. And so Etta spent most days in the small brass bed in the room she grew up in and her mother took care of Cecilia. But Etta soon realized she would never meet another man lying doped up like that in bed. She learned to function well enough and eventually started to take care of Cecilia, pushing her around town in the stroller while the poor girl screamed for her grandmother. Etta told people she'd been plagued with a terrible chronic stomach pain, that she couldn't eat for months on end, and that's how she'd got so thin. Nobody believed this, but Etta didn't care about their lazy gossip. She had just met Henry. Henry was new to town and they went to the same church. He managed a staff of sixty people at a candy manufacturing plant. He was sweet to Etta from the minute they met-he loved babies and Cecilia was particularly cute, so she turned out not to be the problem everyone said she'd be. Before long, Henry bought them a Tudor-style house with mint-green trim in the middle of town. Etta left the brass bed for good and gained back all the weight she'd lost. She threw herself into making a home for her family. There was a well-built porch with a swing, lace curtains on every window, and chocolate chip cookies always in the oven. One day their new living-room furniture was delivered to the wrong house, and the neighbor let the delivery man set it all up in her basement even though she hadn't ordered it. When Etta caught wind of this, she ran down the street after the truck, yelling profanity in her housecoat and curlers. This gave everyone a good laugh, including, eventually, Etta. She tried very hard to be the woman she was expected to be. A good wife. A good mother. Everything seemed like it would be just fine. Excerpted from The Push: A Novel by Ashley Audrain All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.