Motherkind: A Novel

Phillips, Jayne Anne

Published by Alfred a Knopf Inc, 2000
ISBN 10: 0375401946 / ISBN 13: 9780375401947
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Synopsis: From the greatly praised author of Machine Dreams and Shelter, a major new novel.

MotherKind is the story of Kate, whose care for her terminally ill mother coincides with the birth of her first child and the early months of a young marriage. She must, in a single year, come to terms with radiant beginnings and profound loss. MotherKind is a delicately layered narrative in which the details of daily life resonate with import and meaning.

We enter Kate's present world of first and second families, babies and lively stepchildren, neighbors and friends, baby-sitters and wise strangers. Images of her not-so-long-ago past intermingle in a turning of the seasons marked by the gradual fading of her mother, the strong woman who has been her friend, her guiding star and her counterpart across a divide of experience and years.

MotherKind immerses us in a very contemporary situation, yet deals with timeless themes. Even as Kate's relationship with her mother embodies her childhood and adolescence in another place, she must decide what "home" is, and how to translate all she has come from into what she will carry forward. As her baby grows and her mother becomes increasingly ill, Kate realizes how inextricably linked we are, even in separation -- across generations, cultures, time; across death itself.

It is the triumph of MotherKind that Kate's complex experience of being -- and losing -- a mother is so deeply and luminously portrayed.

Review: Although we know from its first page that the protagonist's mother is dying of cancer, Jayne Anne Phillips's rich, involving novel is not a story of loss but of connection. Thirty-year-old Kate, an unmarried poet, has traveled 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 newborn Alexander, while Katherine slowly dies upstairs. As Phillips moves back and forth, she emphasizes 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 realization 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

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Motherkind: A Novel
Publisher: Alfred a Knopf Inc
Publication Date: 2000
Binding: Hard Cover
Book Condition: Fine
Edition: First Edition

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