Friday, May 29, 2020

Review: The Need

From The Need, by Helen Phillips:

Open quoteHer desperation for her children’s silence manifested as a suffocating force, the desire for a pillow, a pair of thick socks, anything she could shove into them to perfect their muteness and save their lives."
The Need: Stories

Molly, young mother of two, hears an intruder's footsteps. Molly, paleobotanist, discovers very odd objects in a dig. Is it a sci-fi novel about parallel universes? Is it a psychological thriller about the anxieties of motherhood? Mostly the latter.

Grade: C+

A short novel, with short chapters. The first half alternates between the two lives of Molly, digging up fossils by day and caring for her two young children at night. Something strange is going on in both lives.

In the dig, she keeps finding strange artifacts in strata millions of years old. For example, a Coke bottle with the lettering slanted to the left instead of the right. Are these objects an elaborate hoax? Or are they somehow coming from a seam of an alternate universe at the bottom of the pit?

At home, Molly is dealing with a home intrusion. Someone is most definitely hiding in her living room. That's a big threat not only to Molly but to her young children, asleep in the next room.

In the second half of the novel, these two story lines merge. Most of the attention is on Molly's domestic situation, but the intruder also seems to have something to do with the strange finds at the fossil dig.

If you think this is a standard science fiction novel, you'd be partly right but mostly wrong. What it most strongly depicts is a mother's anxiety about keeping her children safe. Nursing the baby is a repeated action, how it can provide the closest connection between two beings and at the same time cause the greatest anxiety when someone or something threatens to break that connection.

The novel gradually but steadily moves away from science fiction to psychological thriller. Many readers are likely to be left unsatisfied with the resolutions to both threads. Readers who are mothers are the ones most likely to be satisfied with the emotional pull of it all.

"The Need" is available in hardcover and eBook formats from the Richardson Public Library.

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