When selecting reading material, I usually shy away from books that hit too close to home. I prefer my fiction to provide an escape, not play my everyday life back to me. (Case in point, Joshua Ferris’s “Then We Came to the End.” Wonderfully written book, but it so uncannily captured nearly every office I’ve ever worked in that I just couldn’t finish.)
So when author Gwendolen Gross approached WMAG about reviewing her new book, “The Other Mother,” I agreed with some trepidation. Gross’s book is being billed as a novel about the Mommy Wars, and it alternates between two main characters: Thea, a stay-at-home mom and Amanda, a working mother. I work *and* stay at home, so I feel I know the joys and pitfalls of each situation. I also hate the whole Mommy Wars thing with a passion. I think it’s a media-created sham that covers up the real issue, which is that our society needs to better empower mothers of all stripes.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that “The Other Mother” is less about the Mommy Wars and more about the complex feelings that all mothers face. It also is a very real portrait of friendship between women–how we simultaneously can admire and be repelled by our peers, especially when their lives reflect choices we might not necessarily make for ourselves but that have aspects we secretly envy.
“The Other Mother” follows Amanda and Thea as they negotiate neighborly niceties in their New Jersey suburb. Amanda works as an editor in New York City. Thea is raising three children in the house where she grew up. The women are immediately fascinated by one another and begin a friendship that alternates between warmth and animosity. When Amanda’s house is damaged in a storm, she and her husband and infant live with Thea’s family for a brief time. Then, when Amanda goes back to work, Thea agrees to work as her nanny. The situation forces each woman to confront feelings of guilt and unfulfillment that probably would have arisen anyway but that are thrown into more stark relief when viewed against the life of the other.
The relationship between these two really resonated with me. I’ve met so many women in my life with whom I should be friends. But something (jealousy perhaps?) prevents us from getting close. I always consider these relationships a tragedy. Why do women find it so hard to connect with others who could be valuable allies?
What I really like about this book is how the characters experience doubts and emotions that every mother experiences. Though Thea and Amanda fixate on one another, the real conflict lies within themselves. In the end, this book isn’t about The Other Mother, it’s about being a mother in general. It’s a painfully honest read, so those craving escape might want to pick up something else. But if you’re looking for something that makes you go, “Yes. That is just how it is…” then try this one out.
Read more about “The Other Mother” here!