MOTHERKIND by Jayne Anne Phillips


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Responsibility for a dying parent, taking pleasure in a first baby, marriage to a man with kids and an angry ex-wife. Despite her gift for gorgeous prose, Phillips (Shelter, 1994, etc.) is not entirely successful in breathing new life into this combination of domestic dramas so familiar in fiction and women's lives today.

Kate Tateman, a poet in Boston, is pregnant. Involved with the expectant father, Matt, for eight months, she cannot marry him until his divorce is final. Not that his first marriage's breakup was Kate's fault—the ex-wife left first—but Kate must deal with Matt's two young sons' difficulties adjusting to her. Meanwhile, in Virginia, Kate's mother, Katherine, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Mother and daughter are close, with few frictions, and no one questions that Kate will be Katherine's primary caretaker when the time comes. As Kate's pregnancy progresses, so does Katherine's cancer, and she moves in with Kate and Matt in Boston. The baby is born, Matt and Kate marry, Matt's sons make noisy, sometimes heartbreaking demands, Katherine weakens. Kate feeds, launders, nurtures. Her often thought-provoking musings are refreshingly lacking in cynicism, although her interspersed memories of a visit to India the year before, when she was free of responsibility, seem a bit contrived. At her best, Phillips builds scenes through sensory details and sharp dialogue. Kate's passionate love for her infant son is particularly well rendered, as is her deep tenderness toward her mother. Unfortunately, though, the story itself drags, thanks in part to needlessly repetitive bits of basic information. Meanwhile, Kate's relationship with Matt, who lacks a defined personality, never rises above lukewarm. And because Phillips insulates Kate from any character flaws, anger, or even much regret, Kate feels a little too perfect, too smart, her righteousness somewhat off-putting. No Pampers for her baby.

An ambitious if uneven attempt to write passionately in a minor key about commonplace yet central life experiences.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-40194-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2000


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