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MOTHERHOOD by Sheila Heti


by Sheila Heti

Pub Date: May 1st, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-627-79077-2
Publisher: Henry Holt

Canadian fiction writer Heti (How Should a Person Be?, 2012, etc.) delves into the vexed question of motherhood and what the choice between having or not having a child means, culturally and personally.

The novel opens with a series of questions that are answered by the flipping of three coins in an I Ching–based technique. A note at the beginning assures the reader that "while not everything in books is true, in this book, all results from the flipping of coins are true." Worryingly, the first question posed is: "Is this book a good idea?" "Yes," the coins reply. The narrator is a published writer filled with anguish and uncertainty about the possibility of motherhood, among other things. In addition to flipping coins for the answers to questions such as "What should I be worried about? My soul?" and "Should I begin to personify this demon that brings me bad dreams?" she consults a psychic, has a tarot reading, and talks with friends, reporting every mood, dream, worry, and conversation. There are photographs and descriptions of the writing process. The author is a writer and so is the narrator! What is fiction, and what is truth?! But no amount of metafictional smoke and mirrors can make up for the absence of a compelling story. Eventually she goes on medication. "The drugs really seem to be working....Yet I fear I don't have the right to speak anymore, given these drugs. I can't pretend I have come to any answers, or any great realizations, because I am taking these drugs. I think the drugs are the reason I am feeling less bad." "Am I annoyed?" she continues. "Am I disappointed? A little bit, yes. I wanted my own magic to get rid of the pain." Some readers may find this unfiltered self-absorption helpful. Others will remember the question posed at the book's beginning and conclude that the I Ching is not the best arbiter of literary merit. "What kind of story is created when a person goes down, down, down and down—but instead of breaking through and seeing the truth and ascending, they go down, then they take drugs, and then they go up?" If you have to ask....

It's one thing to have the reader's sympathy and another to hold the reader's interest.