The first work of Sheila Heti’s that I read was her book How Should a Person Be?, a novel about being an artist—or, more specifically, a novel about being a woman and an artist, and how those two things inform and sometimes resist one another. The book was extremely polarizing; some reviewers found it riveting in its experimentation, while others found its content indulgent and its lack of form irritating. I was enamored by it, as Heti has an extraordinary ability to capture the convergence of creativity and self-doubt while voicing thoughts most people believe are unsayable.
Like How Should a Person Be?, Heti’s latest novel, Motherhood,isn’t for everyone. For people who turn to books primarily for their plots, this is not the one (or the writer) for you. Motherhood doesn’t read like a traditional novel; it lacks a traditional plot structure. On the surface, nothing really “happens.” In fact, I find this book difficult to talk about because it resists classification, and the full depth of its meaning can only be found through experiencing it.
Broadly, the book is a rumination on procreation and the pressures surrounding it, both internally and societally. The narrator is a woman in her late thirties, grappling with her uncertain feelings about wanting children while feeling the pressure of her window of opportunity closing.…
Everyone likes to think they have a great sob story, but few of us do.
Can you imagine the look in a mother’s eyes as they glaze over when her daughter says to her, heart pounding out of her chest, “Mom, Dad hits me. Can you make him stop?”
Can you imagine how painful silence can be?
What if that girl grows up? What kinds of partners does she end up with? Can you imagine pouring your soul out to a man about how your daddy would come into your room at night and do unspeakable things to you, only to hear from him a few weeks down the line, “You know, I should be hitting you. But because I love you, I won’t.” Or if that same man begins to sense you gaining some courage and pulling away, so he makes up an elaborate story about a former girlfriend of his who died in a car accident? Only – he tampered with her brakes, and caused that accident, because she was threatening to leave him and now you know what he’s saying is that if you try to leave he may just do the same to you, so you better get your brakes checked?…
In her dream she dips her fingers, languid, in the river that flows, liquid silver, by the window of the fourth floor without entering the decorative wrought iron that adorns the sky.
She understands, the ineffable, the improbable and the inexplicable nature of this moment and she smiles, mischievous smile, at the radiant people who lazily pass armed with oars and bathing suits striped by the sun.
With delight she contemplates the lucky parade, joyful multitude and she remembers another encounter with friends on a train with broken floorboards through which wild flowers exploded jubilant.
And, upon waking, she discovers Rome painted by the daily beauty of bread and circus.