April 9, 2022 5:28 PM - Subscribe

"A new mother who fears she's going through a frightening and exhilarating transformation leans into the feral side of motherhood" in Rachel Yoder's bloody, unsettling novel, Nightbitch.

"In this myth-steeped debut, an unnamed artist and mother, not having had a solid night's sleep since her son was born more than two years earlier, has begun waking enraged in the night. Her oblivious tech-bro husband travels for work, "rendering her a de-facto single mom" while he enjoys nightly room service, abundant quiet, and a bed to himself, and she tries to adjust to life at home with their child after having made the ambivalent decision to leave her "dream job" as director of a community gallery....When she confesses to her husband that she thinks she may be turning into a dog, he laughs off her concerns about the changes she's experiencing—coarse hair sprouting from the back of her neck, lengthening canines, a pilonidal cyst that suspiciously resembles a tail. She self-deprecatingly calls herself "Nightbitch," which plants the germ for a new self she incrementally invents and increasingly embodies, with considerable help from a mysterious library book called A Field Guide to Magical Women. ...A battle hymn as novel about sinking your teeth into the available options for self-determination and ripping them to shreds."
posted by MonkeyToes (5 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This book! I absolutely devoured this one.

I’m 31 and in the process of deciding to have a kid in the next few years — the fact that this book made me want it more, not less, is some hell of a trick.

My husband’s a lot better than hers, though.
posted by cabbage raccoon at 1:05 PM on April 10, 2022

This sounds great. I developed a pilondial (or however you spell it) cyst two years ago and jokingly called it "my tail" until I had it removed. Definitely going to check this one out!
posted by miss-lapin at 6:29 PM on April 10, 2022

I feel like I've been reading a lot of books that deal with maternal ambivalence--The Lost Daughter, The School for Good Mothers, Dept. of Speculation, Weather--and now Nightbitch, which is an interesting answer to how a person can balance being an art monster and a mother. It involves a lot of raw meat, a tolerant spouse, bringing your child along for the ride/hunt, and...reinventing yourself as a feral creature.

Is this a fairy tale? A polemic on the bonsai-ed white American mommy? A horror story? Satire? A critique of pre-formed identities for sale? All of the above. But you get much more out of the book once you decide it's a kind of magical tale set in recognizable material conditions, and what it takes to live within them/without them, authentically. You have to choose to roll with it (and this is probably the place where I should say that the cruelty to animals, and especially the death of the house cat, was intense. It's...somewhat past the question of whether a character is likeable or not, and gets into uncomfortable territory. If you've accepted this transformation, these scenes will remind you that there's a cost to that. I have witnessed a number of animal deaths, and even so, I found the cat scene disturbing because of its physical specificity. It stands out descriptively, and that's saying something for a book whose central conceit is a woman turning into a dog.) The MLM stuff gets a little draggy, or maybe that's because I noticed the narrative style more, and it seemed too much at times? It's not that the book is flabby or excessive, but there's something about it from the 70-90 percent zone (roughly speaking) that made me want to speed through that portion. Maybe it was the reintroduction of the outside world after such intense and strange interiority/domestic life?

That said, one of the things I liked about this book (and The School for Good Mothers) was the central character's internal momologue about her own self-conception when surrounded by other mothers. She doesn't want them to be unhappy, and they're not bad people. It's just that Nightbitch realizes that she'll never really be one of them because she wants something in addition to motherhood. And she finds a (bloody, costly, impossible-to-copy) way! Like The School for Good Mothers, I'm going to have to consider who it's safe to share this with. But for me, this was a good read-once novel, and I'm glad I sought it out.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:01 PM on April 11, 2022

MonkeyToes, thank you for the reading list -- I just tore through The School For Good Mothers in about a day. Powerful stuff, I'm looking forward to the others.
posted by cabbage raccoon at 6:52 AM on April 13, 2022

I posted about The School for Good Mothers if you'd like to talk about it, some_kind_of_toaster. And please feel free to add to the list!
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:09 AM on April 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

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