Although we know from its first page that the protagonist's mother is dying of cancer, Jayne Anne Phillips' rich, involving novel is not a story of loss but of connection. Thirty-year-old Kate, an unmarried poet, has travelled home to tell her mother, Katherine, that she is expecting a child. A few months later, Katherine will be compelled to move into her daughter's chaotic suburban household.
The birth of Kate's baby approached and her mother consented to chemotherapy, consented to leaving home, consented to never going home again, where she'd lived all her life. She crossed all those lines in her wheelchair, without a whimper, moving down an airport walkway. In its cage, her little dog made a sound. "Hush" she said.
For the balance of MotherKind
, the narrative focus shifts between this visit to the country--like time travel to a sepia-toned world of unpolluted streams, flowering meadows and rural gas stations--and the new life Kate is building with Matt, her unruly stepsons, and new-born Alexander, while Katherine slowly dies upstairs. As Phillips moves back and forth, she emphasises the continuity of human life, rather than individual endings or beginnings, and functions like thought itself: obsessively returning to a few prized details, puzzling over old mysteries, making occasional random discoveries or unexpected insights, like treasures turned up by a garden hoe. Recalling her sadness and admiration as she watched her mother rolling toward her in the airport wheelchair, Kate is struck by a realisation that "all lines of transit came together in a starry radiance too bright to observe", a magical realm where "manly cowboys glanced away from death and rode on through big-skyed plains and sage".
Though her third novel may contain all the emotional ingredients of a made-for-television movie, Phillips avoids tear jerking through the use of precisely observed details (the plastic medicine spoon for her mother's morphine, the Christmas songs that double as lullabies for little Alexander) and the absence of cliché. She has even side-stepped, at the end, the requisite death-bed scene, knowing that there is almost no way left to write about such moments without recourse to received language and images. MotherKind uncovers the mixed sources of maternal strength in love, habit and necessity. --Regina Marler
Phillips's writing is distinctive, audacious and powerful (Daily Telegraph
A brilliant writer, utterly original and with an astonishing range (Ian McEwan )
Jayne Anne Phillips combines extraordinary perception with extraordinary versatility and power (Margaret Atwood )
No number of books read or films seen can deaden one to the intimate act of art by which this wonderful young writer has penetrated the definitive experience of her generation (Nadine Gordimer )
Delicate compassion and hard-edged honesty... MotherKind
is further proof of an extraordinary ability to reflect the texture of real life (Washington Post Book World