A member of my Novel in a Year cohort (Marie Deaconu-Baylon) recommended Brit Bennett’s debut novel, THE MOTHERS during a class meeting a couple of months ago. Marie mentioned she knows Bennett personally, as they were undergraduates together at Stanford University in California. When recent buzz about Bennett’s second novel THE VANISHING HALF appeared in the New York Times, THE MOTHERS, happily, was already on my to-read stack of books.
A big decision every novelist must make is the point of view (POV) she/he will use. One choice is to have one of the characters in the book do the telling, in first person. Everything that happens in the story is filtered through that character. (Think of Ishmael in MOBY DICK.) Another popular POV choice these days is “close third,” also called “third person limited.” In the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling uses close third. Harry is “he,” rather than “I,” but throughout, we stay in Harry’s head.
A story can also be told from multiple points of view. Authors sometimes assign alternating chapters to different characters, and the same story or parts of it are told from varying viewpoints. Barbara Kingsolver’s THE POISONWOOD BIBLE is a good example of alternating POV.
In THE MOTHERS, Bennett writes from a unique point of view, telling the story of Nadia Turner, Luke Sheppard, and Aubrey Evans through the eyes and ears of the church ladies (“the mothers”) at Upper Room Chapel, the church that figures prominently in all three protagonists’ lives. In this unique way, Bennett manages to pull off most challenging POV available to the writer—omniscience. The church ladies see all, know all, or accurately surmise it. They poke their heads up every so often to remind us they are there, then back off subtly and allow the story to drift forward, slipping in and out of Nadia’s, Luke’s, and Aubrey’s heads. Early on, the mothers comment collectively on the subject of men:
If we laid all our lives toe to heel, we were born before the Depression, the Civil War, even America itself. In all that living, we have known men. Oh girl, we have known littlebit love. That littlebit of honey left in an empty jar that traps the sweetness in your mouth long enough to mask your hunger.
Bennett’s writing style is fluid, and was a quick, enjoyable read. The story contains youthful lust and love, painful losses, a love triangle, devotion, and mature love. If you’d like to acquire and read THE MOTHERS, you can purchase it in soft cover from my favorite independent bookshop, Fair Isle Books on Washington Island, WI.
Thank you, Marie, for pointing me toward this talented young writer! Bennet’s latest, THE VANISHING HALF sounds like an even more compelling read.