Since she grew up in West Virginia, Jayne Anne Phillips is classified by many as a Southern author, yet her themes are universal. In Phillips's new novel, MotherKind, she looks at a situation many families must face. Phillips, author of the well-received novel Machine Dreams, now writes about a young mother who undergoes the joys and tribulations of caring for her infant while also caring for her terminally ill mother.
MotherKind begins when Kate, who is in her early 30s and unmarried, anxiously waits to tell her mother that she is pregnant. She plans to marry the baby's father, Matt, after the birth of the child. However, the wedding plans and birth occur as her mother weakens from cancer and because of chemotherapy treatments, she must move in with Kate. Suddenly, Kate finds herself experiencing the full circle of parent-child relationships and attends to her mother and baby full-time in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Kate, a former copy editor, is thrown into myriad roles, all of which center on her being the primary caretaker. Not only does Kate have all the trials of being a first-time mother, but her fiancé is undergoing a divorce and holds partial custody of two young boys who resent Kate and openly disobey her requests. Although Matt is a sensitive partner, he is preoccupied with financially providing for the family and cannot offer Kate much emotional support. Her eventual relief and guidance come from babysitters and home health care workers, all of whom shape Kate in some way.
Phillips's past work has received much critical acclaim, being described as "mesmerizing, sensual, and exquisite"; her new novel will not disappoint. One of the most impressive traits in Phillips' work is her strong characterizations. Having written about those on the fringe of society in her previous works, she portrays her characters with respect regardless of their social class and showcases their innate goodness. There is an ease in her prose, an authority which transports the reader into the most intimate moments of someone else's life.
This novel will captivate the reader's attention and emotions, while exploring an important issue. Many will identify with the character of Kate, who must learn to succeed in her new roles, despite the awkwardness of life's timing.
Charlotte Pence teaches English at Belmont University.