Tuesday, September 17, 2013

9 Heart Review: Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

Mother, Mother
Koren Zailckas

Page Count: 384

Release Date: September 17th 2013
Publisher: Crown (Random House)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher, via publicist, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Random House and TLC Book Tours!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

From Koren Zailckas, author of the iconic memoir Smashed: an electrifying debut novel about a family being torn apart by the woman who claims to love them most

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.
Violet knew in her gut that Josephine was the major reason Rose had done what she'd done. With a mom like theirs, it was impossible not to equate becoming a mother with becoming a monster.

I haven't read too many psychological thrillers, but I really should more often. Mother, Mother is a book that's impossible not to enjoy; with an unconventional perspective on what it means to be a doting mother, it at once left me greatly disturbed and deeply satisfied, which is an emotive pairing I never expected myself to feel.

First off, I should warn you all: this book is not for the faint-hearted. There isn't so much blood and guts here as there is a grotesquely screwed-up family... yes, it's that kind of scary. The false cheeriness—the cutting sarcasm—that floats in the atmosphere of the novel makes it all the more frightening; you can think of Josephine as a cross between the ultimate Stepford wife and Psycho's Norman Bates, which is a genius, but lethal combination.

The story begins in Woodstock, New York, in the wake of the oldest Hurst daughter, Rose's sudden departure, which Josephine swears is all part of Rose's grand plan to turn her perfect family into a perfect wreck... or at least expose its so-called "perfection" to the world. Violet, the younger Hurst flower, suffers from what at first appears to be middle child syndrome: not good enough to replace her sister yet not respected enough to trump her coddled, autistic brother, William. As detached as she is from everyone in her family, including, fortunately, her mother, she and her brother share a convoluted connection in that they're both trying to find Rose, or at least find out what really happened to her. Both children try to figure out the blurry night when everything changed—when William was attacked, Violet institutionalized, and Rose, after a whole year of missing, reappeared—but the task proves more difficult than expected because only one person seems to have been in the right mind when everything happened: Josephine. The "real" events of that night slowly unravel to reveal Josephine's projectionist tendencies, her most horrifying defects, and the way she so obviously plagues each of her family members, but then again, when it comes to the Hursts, even real can't be trusted.

The two points-of-view of Violet and Will are fascinating to read together, especially because of how sharply they contrast; it's like reading two different books interlaced, which mimics the polarity in Josephine's menacing personality. Will's logical and uncomfortably candid narrative is highly influenced and tainted, while Violet's is fresh and intuitive, although very, very cloudy. Both narrators are so easy to sympathize with, and yet neither are completely reliable; knowing which frame of mind to favor, is all up to the reader.

With stunning characterization and a climax that confirms the worst of suspicions and shocks you to the core, Zailckas shows us the good, the bad, and the hideous of a family that's about to come crashing down under the weight of a calculated secret and a web of lies. Mother, Mother had my head spinning throughout; this is definitely the kind of intelligent read that will keep you in a constant frenzy.


Sharp, astute voice // Fascinating subject matter and interesting take on a suburbian nightmare // Fast-paced // Will and Violet are brilliantly developed // The climax—it's got to be one of the best I've seen in contemporary fiction


Multiple perspectives and flashbacks are confusing in the beginning


The multiple faces of a desperate mother are painfully exposed as her misunderstood and determined daughter and misguided and idolatrous young son attempt to crack the case on the disappearance of their doll of an older sister, Rose. Mother, Mother is delectable in the sickest, most disorienting, and most unorthodox way; completely disturbing and completely original, this psychological thriller is an impressive debut. Zailckas's abrasive first novel, chronicled with a building sense of dread—a lingering discomfort—is a reluctant masterpiece; a darkly comical tale about the manipulative means a mother will go to in order to get her way Americanflag

9 hearts: Loved it! This book has a spot on my favorites shelf (x)

Click here to find out 5 surprising facts about Mother, Mother from the author, herself!