Published by Penguin on 1 August 2019
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Women, Science Fiction, General
Source: Purchased Book
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***LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN FICTION***
“An extraordinary and dazzlingly original work from one of our most gifted and interesting writers” (Emily St. John Mandel, author of The Glass Hotel). The Need, which finds a mother of two young children grappling with the dualities of motherhood after confronting a masked intruder in her home, is “like nothing you’ve ever read before…in a good way” (People).
When Molly, home alone with her two young children, hears footsteps in the living room, she tries to convince herself it’s the sleep deprivation. She’s been hearing things these days. Startling at loud noises. Imagining the worst-case scenario. It’s what mothers do, she knows.
But then the footsteps come again, and she catches a glimpse of movement.
Suddenly Molly finds herself face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. As she attempts to protect those she loves most, Molly must also acknowledge her own frailty. Molly slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood: the ecstasy and the dread; the languor and the ferocity; the banality and the transcendence as the book hurtles toward a mind-bending conclusion.
In The Need, Helen Phillips has created a subversive, speculative thriller that comes to life through blazing, arresting prose and gorgeous, haunting imagery. “Brilliant” (Entertainment Weekly), “grotesque and lovely” (The New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice), and “wildly captivating” (O, The Oprah Magazine), The Need is a glorious celebration of the bizarre and beautiful nature of our everyday lives and “showcases an extraordinary writer at her electrifying best” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
The Need, I need a moment to review this book. It’s strange because although I devoured it, I am left feeling a bit like “what the fuck did I just read”? The Need follows the life of Molly, a Palaeobotanist that is struggling with the juggling act that is being a working mother. Working at the archaeological site they have discovered an alternate bible that has god as she. They give tours but with the alternate take on the bible, they are at risk from religious zealots who question its authenticity. Molly worries about potential attacks and is battling anxiety due to it.
The Need delves into the pressures of motherhood. She’s the mother of two children – Viv, aged three, and Ben a baby boy. She is still nursing him and Viv is a very demanding little girl, she has questions upon questions, sings at the top of her lungs, and is generally overexcitable about everything. Her Husband, David has gone away to record music in South America and Molly is trying and struggling with battling sleep deprivation, nursing, caring, working, and cleaning a house. She hears footsteps in the house and can’t tell if it is due to her increasing anxiety and sleep deprivation or someone is actually in the house. She prepares to hide with the children, just in case.
I did enjoy this story but I did feel frustrated at the questions being left unanswered. I told myself that it would all make sense in the end – but no I was more confused than ever by the epilogue. Another woman enters the story and she is a dead ringer for Molly. She thinks the same, she acts the same, her decision-making is the same, they are just the same. She is a threatening visage for Molly – she states that she can ruin her, and her terms are to share the children.
The Need gives us a lot of information but at the same time nothing at all. At seeing this other Molly with her children she has feelings of rage, pity, and anxiousness. Do they love that Molly more? She questions everything about her ability to be a mother. Her milk starts to dry up due to the other feeding Ben also. It leaves her questioning everything she thought about physics, reality, and the universe.
There are hints that the other Molly has come from another dimension but it has to be said that I wondered at different points if Molly was an unreliable narrator and just gone plain crazy. I mean she sounds crazy, right? This story has been quite polarizing for a lot of readers, if you’ve read it what did you think?
ABOUT HELEN PHILLIPS
Helen Phillips is a 2020 Guggenheim Foundation Fellow. She is the author of five books, including, most recently, the novel The Need (Simon & Schuster, 2019; Chatto & Windus, 2019), which was long-listed for the National Book Award.
Helen’s short story collection Some Possible Solutions (Henry Holt, 2016) received the 2017 John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Her novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat (Henry Holt, 2015), a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, was a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her collection And Yet They Were Happy (Leapfrog Press, 2011) was named a notable collection by The Story Prize. Her children’s adventure book Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green (Delacorte Press, 2012) was published internationally as Upside Down in the Jungle.
Helen has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, the Italo Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction, the Iowa Review Nonfiction Award, the DIAGRAM Innovative Fiction Award, and a Ucross Foundation residency.
Her work has been featured on Selected Shorts, at the Brooklyn Museum, and in the Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times, among others. Her books have been (or will soon be) translated into Chinese, French, German, Italian, Korean, Lithuanian, Polish, and Spanish.
A graduate of Yale and the Brooklyn College MFA program, she is an associate professor at Brooklyn College. Born and raised in Colorado, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, artist Adam Douglas Thompson, and their children.