The Other Mother by Gwendolen Gross is a must-read novel for moms. This book is the perfect combination of skillful writing, dramatic suspense, and a thought-provoking topic. Ms. Gross manages to write a book that does not take sides on the unwinnable Mommy Wars. Sometimes the women’s actions are noble and sometimes they are detestable or debatable, yet most mothers will identify with the motivation that the opposing characters share: to give all you have to your children without losing yourself.
In The Other Mother, we meet Andrea, a first-time mom who plans to return to work shortly after the birth of her daughter; and Thea, a seasoned mom of three, who bakes brownies and tends her garden with an enviable air of contentment about her. Andrea and Thea are brought together by the suburban New Jersey neighborhood into which Andrea and her husband have just moved. Gwendolen Gross’ page-turning novel is driven by the tension and attraction between these two women. The novel is written in sections which alternate point-of-view between Andrea and Thea. The women’s thoughts and actions speak for themselves in the first-person telling. “You are more complicated than you seem. But you gave up your own life for this,” Andrea observes to Thea and immediately claps her hand over her mouth trying to erase the words that hang in the air. This is the comment that neither woman can forget, because at the core of the choice that each woman makes in regard to her children is the issue of what others think of our decision. The author rightly observes that others judge not only our choice to care for our children full-time or to balance full-time work with a family, but our choice of clothing and even things which we don’t necessarily choose, such as our body type and confidence level, and the actions of our husbands.
The story of a woman’s choice cannot be accurately told without the backdrop of a mother’s love. She perfectly captures this complex reality, from the beauty of a newborn baby to the tender release of your firstborn into adulthood and everything in between. These excerpts of dialogue illustrate the descriptive writing and dead-on understanding of women that you will find in this book:
It hurt to love someone like this, someone who was letting me go every time she walked away.
This was my new normal: juggling guilt and longing. Perhaps the women who stayed home just had more guilt in the mix and succumbed to it, women like Thea, who clearly had talents other than wiping noses and making suppers.
Sometimes, when they were all in the car. . . I forgot, for a guilty, delicious moment or two, that I was a mother of three, on errands, the person in charge.
This is a story about women. The men exist only as seen or recalled through their wives’ memories or interpretations: “I was right from the start, right to fall in love with him. He knew how to pay attention, he wanted to know people. He wanted to know me, even if usually the conversations we had now were about braces for Carra and something new and cute Iris said, about Oliver’s dietary habits instead of about our deepest desires and needs.”
Because of the neutral tone and the way this book addresses the issues that all moms face, this would be a great book club selection, or a book to read and pass around amongst friends. I rate this a strong PG-13 for some thematic elements and occasional use of strong language (Check out my rating info in my profile).
Click here to read more of my thoughts on this book and an interview with the author. Find out more information about Gwendolen Gross and her books on her author site. You are also invited to participate in her free writing workshop blog, “The Other Mother–for Moms Who Want to Write.”
The author has donated two copies that can ship in the U.S. or Canada, so if you would like to win, please leave a comment here. We will announce the winners Monday in our next column.