Motherhood

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 May 2018

Member Reviews

I loved Sheila Heti's previous book so I was excited to pick this one up. Motherhood has been a difficult transition for me, personally, and I appreciate more than ever the considerations of other women before they decide to make the leap, and I find childless or child-free narratives to be interesting. This book didn't really work for me, unfortunately, on that level, as it seemed like Heti hit a wall and wasn't able to go any deeper into her imagined future, all of the paths of possibility. at that point, the discussion became sort of circular and pedantic. I wish the overlay of mystical thinking had been stronger and more consistent. Overall, she's a great writer and it's an enjoyable-enough read, but it didn't really work for me on the level I hoped for.
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This book was fascinating and interesting ..... but I am very sorry to say that I didn't get all the way through this book before my time to read it expired.  A nuanced look at a complex topic.
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A facile description of Sheila Heti’s brilliant latest book is that Motherhood is about a female writer in her late thirties who is trying to decide whether to have a child, and what becoming a mother (or declining to do so) would mean both for her art and her life.

But Motherhood isn’t so easily encapsulated—much like how motherhood itself can’t be distilled and crammed into a one-size-fits-all essence. It’s complicated, at once individual and collective, a beautiful mess. Reading this book is like living in the bright mind of a woman consumed with the tyranny of making this irreversible choice. The process of making that choice is a non-process, so it’s also a beautiful mess:

“Maybe if I could somehow figure out what not having a child is an experience of—make it into an active action, rather than the lack of an action—I might know what I was experiencing, and not feel so much like I was waiting to act. I might be able to choose my life, and hold in my hands what I have chosen, and show it to other people, and call it mine. “

Heightening this tension for the unnamed narrator is the fact that the choice is hers and hers alone. The option is neatly dumped into her lap by her boyfriend, Miles, who already has one child from a previous relationship (his daughter lives abroad, and they don’t see her often). He’ll do it if she really wants to, he tells her, “but you have to be sure.” One imagines a stern face of ambivalence with this patronizing remark, perhaps a dismissive shrug punctuating his ruthless declaration.

Later, the narrator lies next to him dusting off a dream about a baby. “Waking up, I said to Miles, It might be nice to have a child. He said, I’m sure it’s also nice to get a lobotomy.”

No wonder she has so much to wrestle, nor is it surprising that from the start, she doesn’t quite trust herself with the enormity of the decision. She pulls tarot cards with a psychic and uses the toss of three coins, oracles of the I Ching, to inquire about finer points within the larger one. The coins can only answer yes or no, and her questions climb ladders of abstraction to humorous and absurdist effect:

I have to ask, am I like those pale, brittle women writers who never leave the house, who don’t have kids, and who always kind of fascinated and horrified me?

yes

Is there anything I can do to avoid being that way?

no

Is there real shame in being that way?

yes

Is that way basically selfish?

yes

And not as connected to the life force as other women, being so shut up in my thoughts and my head?

yes

Is there a male equivalent to this, well, barrenness?

no

She also consults a more traditional source: her female friends who are about the same age. Most have children. One chooses to have a chid with a man she’d recently started dating and ends up marrying him; another has four kids and is one of those insistent advocates for motherhood who lives by the assumption that all women who think they don’t want kids will change their minds (and that those who chose not to will regret it). The friends try to toss out helpful answers, but they don’t quite fit. The voices of these well-intentioned friends add up to the crushing social pressure women feel, from both society at large and their closest allies, to succumb already and become a mother. Is the pressure a betrayal of their social contract, or did the narrator violate that contract by being the one who didn’t choose motherhood, like the rest? Or both?

Later, when hormones begin to dominate her moods, she begins to question her emotions, her body, and more than ever, her ability to make decisions. The effect of this, coupled with the confessional first-person, train-of-thought narrative stream of Motherhood, is what great literature does — sets the reader in someone else’s skin, deeply feeling their itches, their pain, their every existential discomfort. Whether you like this book might be an incredibly personal question. (One writer friend of mine who is a fan of Heti’s How Should a Person Be? mentioned to me that she wanted to read Motherhood, but at the moment, it’s a little too on the nose for her; perhaps later.) If you happen to be a woman, it will probably strike some nerves, raise hackles, and ignite indignation. If you happen to be a man, and it somehow doesn’t do any of these things, then you might ask yourself, why not?

Feel free to get defensive about that last sentence. Take it as political. But don’t take it as an indication that Motherhood is full of arguments about gender theory or current feminist thought. In fact, Heti’s execution is quite the opposite. In an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, Heti says she deliberately avoided “ready-made structure” such as feminism, because “I wanted the voice in the book to be more unmoored than that, because the state of not knowing whether or not you want a child — genuinely felt — is so deeply unmooring. I didn’t want the questioning to have a solid rock like feminism to sit on, or for the issue to be experienced through a shared filter. I wanted the book to be about wrestling alone, because I think we do wrestle alone, when it comes to whether or not to have a child.”

This also means that she doesn’t bring previous writers’ work on this topic into the book’s headspace. It could be a de-intellectualizing omission, yet it’s an enlightening tack, to free the narrator of all that academic and literary baggage, to let her think aloud outside of those constructs, instead turning over and over this greatest of thought experiments on her own terms. However, writers are always, first and foremost, readers. So it’s still a curious exclusion, one that’s philosophically pure, but perhaps an inauthentic demand on that purity.

This core internalization drives the novel relentlessly forward without a traditional plot. Heti, like Rachel Cusk, is pushing at the edges of a genre with the broadest of encapsulating folds: the novel. But the resolution of perhaps the greatest question a woman faces in her life provides more than adequate conflict around which to structure a novel. The enormity of the question is all Heti needed to create bold, innovative and desperately human art in Motherhood.
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As women, it's our one job to reproduce, but is it? Some women can't wait to be mothers, others want to wait for the right time. Some women can't have children, and some women don't want children. This book examines one woman's journey through one of the biggest decisions women make between the ages of 20-40(the childbearing years). To have a baby or not to have a baby, that is the question.

Thank you to Henry Holt and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

I couldn't get this book. I read it from cover to cover and I just couldn't find the something that drew it all together. To me it seemed really repetitive and there was really no cohesiveness.

I wanted to read this book because from a young age, I didn't want kids. Everyone one in my family and all of my friends knew this about me. I love kids. I was the neighborhood babysitter, I was a Girl Scout Camp leader, I went to school to become a child psychologist, but I just didn't want to have any of my own. One year before my Doctor agreed to tie my tubes if I hadn't had kids I got pregnant, two years later came baby number 2 and 10.5 months after that baby number 3. So I was really looking forward to reading this book and hearing someone else's perspective on the topic.

I couldn't relate to anything in this fiction/non-fiction tale. I'm not even sure if the main character had a name. Was it the author? The boyfriend was Miles. I'm not sure what message was trying to be conveyed, but I didn't get it.

I don't know if I will read other books by this author.
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This was my first Sheila Heti book and she didn't disappoint! I often felt the need to underline passages that drew me in. The book was thought provoking and the book came through of what I expected. I got a hard copy once it came out and it's definitely one I'll be keeping in my bookshelf.
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This one gutted me, turned me inside out and upside down and then righted me again. It's a brutal read, so honest and vulnerable and there were so many times when I felt the author in my BRAIN. I have never read a book about the choice of becoming a mother that ran so close to my own thoughts, at the same time it was wildly different from my own experience; I bookmarked dozens of passages and returned to them over and over. I set it down for days at a time to process but always came back and I cried when it was over. A breathtaking read.
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This book was absolutely amazing, and just in time for mother's day! It captured all the levels of what it means to be a mother, and it's a conversation that is rarely had. Is being a mother the best thing ever? Perhaps not but it is a job that takes care and skill. It actually reads more like a diary, and we get to hear the struggle of understanding what being a mother really means to the narrator. Would 100% recommend.
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This one didn't really click with me, but I can't say I understand the criticism that it shouldn't have been written or that Heti's observations aren't valid for any reason. It's not particularly provocative, but honest and, sure, coming from a place of privilege. It's up to the reader to decide whether they find the work relevant to them. I guess she has a profile after the success of How Should A Person Be? but this is personal writing, and just because there is better work on the same subject out there (Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work seems to get mentioned in a lot of other reviews) shouldn't really impact anyone's reading of this, other than to say her observations are less interesting to me. Anyway - an ok book, she's not trying to be the voice of a generation, but people seem to be using that aim as a way of saying she doesn't measure up.

I'm just glad I got to read it for free from NetGalley.
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The issue of whether or not to have a child is the driving question of this autobiographical novel.  The narrator, a woman in her late thirties, is plagued with doubt about something she sees so many women go through as a natural part of maturation. Naturally, most women do not suffer the internal struggle here as evidenced by the population explosion of modern times.  It is as easy as falling off a log.  But for some, it requires a thorough examination of the existential act of becoming a mother.  

Looking at the question of whether to take on the role of mother, the narrator looks at all aspects of her life and that of her mother and grandmother.  She has a loving partner, Miles, who already has a child so he is not anxious to reproduce for the sake of having a family.  Miles seems perfectly happy with his new partner; childless seems okay.  But the narrator digs deep into what it will mean for her, for them as a couple, and for the rest of her life, realizing that once a mother, it is a lifetime commitment.  She considers every aspect of motherhood, even the part where one day she will make the child, or adult child, an orphan.  This book is a thorough examination of life.  It was difficult to read at times because I consider the question of having a child a serious one, perhaps at the same level as Heti.  I finished reading this significant piece of writing wishing that more women would give the issue soul searching thought before they decided to procreate.

Thank you, NetGalley and Henry Holt for the opportunity to read this ARC.
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Sheila Heti describes a dream in which she has a son.  She says “I loved him, but I also felt like the love was not as I imagined it would be; it was not as deep to the core as I thought it would feel…” This expectation that motherhood will change a woman deep to the core, potentially destroying that core in the process, is a terrifying and disincenting possibility to the writer.  

Its interesting to me that society expects us to experience life choices unambivalently, and in a way, Heti accepts that premise.  In this stream of consciousness, she analyzes her own feelings, those of her friends, and those of society at large about mothers, motherhood, and women as “not mothers”.   I found the section where she tosses coins to answer her own questions to be weirdly fascinating.
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The topic of motherhood has been written about a thousand times. Should you have kids? Why don't you have kids? Don't you want kids? When to have kids? Sheila Heti has taken all of that and written a book that speak to me in ways that no other book on motherhood or being a woman ever has. 

Sheila Heti writes almost diary like chapters of her life. She is in a long term relationship and approaching 40. Her friends are having kids, every person she runs into asks about having kids, etc etc. It's nothing that unfamiliar to me. This is very "How Should A Person Be?" - What is expected of us, what is wanted of us, what do we want for ourselves. Heti explores what become of a woman after motherhood.

Sheila Heti is one of my favorite contemporary writers and I loved this book. She's a star and I already can't wait for her next book. 

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and Sheila Heti for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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My first Sheila Heti book. Wow! Such innovative style and form. I wanted a bit more from the story - I occasionally found it circular and repetitive - but was intrigued by the narrator's desires and wanted to know where and how she'd end up. Would recommend to a friend - but not to my mom ;)
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This book is exhausting, but it is exactly the voice that was inside my head 4 years ago when weighing the pros and cons of a bad relationship versus motherhood. I don't know if I can gift this to friends without it appearing to be judgement call, but I probably will send it to at least one and recommend it to many others. Author totally encapsulates this issue from every angle. Intense. Good intense.
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The book's concept is interesting and one that is currently being explored by many women I know. Unfortunately the lack of real plot made the book difficult to get through.
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The poet Allen Grossman used to teach that the most heartbreaking word in the Song of Solomon is “with” because it is a promise that can never be fulfilled. The bodies we are will die, or we will go away *and* die. Emily Dickinson said it later (and best), “I cannot live with you” because one cannot live with anyone. These are Heti’s subjects, beginning with mothering, but punching through partnership along the way. 

My favorite details happen on the envelope: a young editor at an intellectual magazine who, in front of the narrator, wraps up her toast, “which she likes more than being admired.” But I lost my bearings easily in the book, where even its genre felt like a plot twist. Heti is in gifted company: Jenny Offill’s Dept of Speculation: A Novel, W.G Sebald’s “travel/memoir”, and now Motherhood: A Novel. Confession is speculation. I’m too new to Heti to get it, but for me, even her best truths (toast admiration!) read like letters I’d torn open and read before realizing they were addressed to someone else entirely.
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In 2018 women are still being told that motherhood as the true meaning and purpose of their lives. It's impossible to avoid, and anxiety producing. Heti grapples with these pressures and the toll they take on women's psyche. It's not a topic often discussed, but Heti faces it head-on.
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A thought-provoking read on motherhood, art, love, and time. I enjoyed the unique structure and literary devices at work in the book. Narrowly introspective, but I didn't find this a drawback.
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I wanted to love this book so much but sadly I was unable to connect with the story.
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I really wanted to like this book, but try as I might, I couldn’t make sense of it or get interested in it. The book is based around the main character, a woman in her 30’s, whose name I probably should know, but don’t and her boyfriend Miles. She is grappling with the idea of motherhood, if she will become a mother, as she is unsure that she wants to but also unsure if she should pass the opportunity by. Her musings on this and other issues feels plodding and hard to become concerned about. I just could not embrace this character. I also couldn’t read to the end of the book. However, everyone should decide for themselves, as you may love the book. So, don’t take my opinion - make your own, as I hate giving any book a bad review!
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Oh dear. There’s wit here, and inexhaustible philosophical insight on the eponymous topic, but there’s no fictional engagement. For the reader, this cerebral dive into procreation offers little narrative distraction. Fine, if that’s what you seek. But me, I like a story.
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