The Mothers – Brit Bennett (2016)

After reading Petry’s excellent work, I wanted to read a more modern Black author so I tracked down Brit Bennett’s “The Mothers” (2016). After having seen all the recent exposure for her most recent release, “The Vanishing Half” (2020), I was curious about all the hoopla so nipped down to the library to see what I could find. “The Mothers” was what I left with. 

The plot revolves around an African-American community who are linked with a Black church called the Upper Room. The main protagonist, Nadia, is still reeling from her mother’s unexplained suicide and, along with her surviving father, Nadia spends with and is supported by the Church Mothers, a tightly-knit group of women who are deeply involved with this religious organization. Along the way, Nadia also hangs out with young Luke, the son of the pastor, and ends up getting pregnant with Luke’s child. But what to do, what to do…

This was a very quick read – Bennett rightly has a lot of traction in the publishing world right now and the narrative flows well and is well-written. So I’m quite puzzled why I wasn’t as positively taken with this title as many other readers have been. It wasn’t a bad read, by any means, but it wasn’t as supercalifragilistically fantastic as I had expected it to be. 

As I think about this, this was a pretty “issues-y” novel – unmarried/unplanned pregnancy, a parent who has killed herself (but why? It’s never explained…), a lonely young woman trying to sort out her life with a fairly-distant father who doesn’t help her… It seemed to me as though Bennett had thought of some issues mostly likely to attract her readers and then plugged them in to the plot as she wrote.

You know – it reminded me of the 1980s/1990s Oprah Books where they were designed to trigger long meaningful interactions about knotty social issues that tend to happen to “other people”.

I’m glad I read it – I don’t regret the time I spent with this book at all but to put it into perspective for you, my favorite thing about the edition that I read was the artwork on the cover. (Really nice.) So – perhaps this is more of a beach read than a substantial work on social issues. It was fun to read. It was well-written, but it was a pretty superficial approach to some weighty issues. 

(It’s also possible that I could be the only person in the world who doesn’t gush over Bennett’s work, so you might take this with a grain of salt. It just suffered in contrast after reading the excellence of Petry’s book immediately before it. If you’re looking for a solid read this summer, the Petry is the one I’d recommend.) 

5 thoughts on “The Mothers – Brit Bennett (2016)

  1. The Vanishing Half is really getting a lot of love at the moment, isn’t it? This sounds interesting, but sometimes if the issues are central to the book and not the writing or the plot it can lose something. And there do sound to be a *lot* of issues in this one…

    • It was a good read, but soooo many social issues. I’m also wondering if her other (later) title benefits from more writing/publishing experience. Or, additionally, it might be only me who thinks this! 😉

  2. I reviewed The Vanishing Half the other day, and I thought it was much more than just an issues book. As this is an earlier novel perhaps the author was still perfecting that balance between a book with themes and a compelling read.

  3. I wonder if this was down to it being her first novel (I think) as Ali says above – I certainly felt she balanced issues and literary value in The Vanishing Half. Also, I don’t mind issues being central if it’s important for people to read about them and some people to see themselves reflected in them, but that may be because I read a fair bit of YA stuff and that’s central there!

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