As dazzling and beautiful as it is thoughtful and heart-wrenching, this speculative fiction narrative centers on the indescribable pain and beauty of motherhood, and the mysterious and horrifying related “affliction” one small and isolated community has found themselves subject to.
Somehow, some way, this unnamed town has developed a story, a myth, that is inextricably entwined into all aspects of their culture, allowing them to both honor and bear witness to the wonder of motherhood, – albeit at a terrible cost.
“They did not exalt mothers as we did here. But then, nor did they sacrifice them”.
With a history as impenetrable as the town’s current belief system – Vera, our first-person POV narrator leads us through this strange and creepy world, shrouded in clouds and situated between two mountains, as she grows from childhood into her own eerily-localized experience of marriage and motherhood.
With a story that reads part Margaret Atwood and part “Island of Dr Moreau”, this sheltered and close-knit community is oddly convinced of their culture’s moral and aesthetic superiority, and only somewhat welcoming to the random stranger visiting from “elsewhere”.
“Our affliction taught us that you can’t wrest answers from a mystery.
We submitted to it. We bore it, carried it, so that there would be a place on this earth where people lived as we did and knew the things we knew. We did this not only for ourselves but also for them, for her, (a stranger) even if she could not appreciate it. We were necessary.”
Through their very strangeness, (some of which is downright disturbing), the author explores the necessary and spurtive set-up and tear-down of boundaries: the inside-then-outside (then farther outside) physicality of motherhood, all-subsuming carnal love, Individuality versus the community, pain versus pleasure, “here” versus everywhere else or “elsewhere”.
(Even an act as simple as the bodily ingestion of fruit – as the women eat the black and dripping “skin-fruit”, they devour and absorb it’s pulpy sweetness with a voraciousness that is unexpectedly terrifying. )
I loved this book, was disturbed by it, and absolutely could not put it down.
Fascinating and frightening, reminiscent of early dystopian sci-fi novels, this book is timely in a current context that is struggling with the imposed “policing” of women, their bodies, roles and expectations, and always, the looming obliteration of essential human-hood.
A great big thank-you to @Netgalley, the author and the publisher, All thoughts presented are my own.