The Mothers is a debut novel by Britt Bennett about a community, love, friendships, ambition and living up to our expectations and the expectations of others. Set in contemporary black America, it begins at the ‘Upper Room Chapel’ (a community church) and with the mothers who gather there every Wednesday and Sunday in the prayer room. These women gather to offer prayers asked for in a wooden box near the door.
They think they know a secret but, as the book reveals…
“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season”.
This one passage sets the tone for what is an incredibly well-written book.
The story centres around three friends: Nadia, Luke and Aubrey.
Nadia is learning to deal with the sudden loss of her mother, and a father who is struggling to cope. She finds herself lost, with an identity imposed on her by the community based on the decisions her mother made. In the autumn before she is due to leave for college, Nadia wanders the streets, rather than attend school, dreaming of the change that’s about to happen. College will enable her to leave the only home she has known. The new school and town will provide the opportunity to become a new person, one without the labels of her mother’s choices, free to become whoever she wants; a new version of herself.
One day, she drops into a café and sees Luke behind the counter. Luke’s father is the pastor at the Upper Room Chapel, but Nadia knows him from school, where he was a football star who disappeared after breaking his leg and losing his scholarship. A friendship turns into much more.
Aubrey, meanwhile, has struggles of her own. After problems at home and her mother’s decision leaving her with nowhere to go, she moves in with her gay sister and partner. Aubrey struggles with her relationship with her mother and feels out of place at school, but eventually finds solace when volunteering at the Upper Room Chapel. After Luke and Nadia’s relationship ends, Nadia notices Aubrey at the chapel. Their friendship blossoms around a joint understanding of their relationships (or lack thereof) with their mothers.
We jump forward a number of years when the three are now adults. Nadia has moved to college, gained her degree and is about to sit the bar exam, when her father is involved in a horrific accident and she comes home for the first time since she left look after him. This time gives her a better understanding of her parents’ relationship and the decisions that her mother made, but it has also reignited painful memories.
Luke and Aubrey are now married and struggling to make a family. Luke has never really given up the past, or reconciled the decision he made, and has often pondered on what could have been. Nadia’s return reignites the relationship and they both struggle to work out a way ahead.
Nadia and Luke’s secret is finally revealed impacting not only on the three friends but on the community in a way no one could have predicted. Will the Upper Room Chapel survive the scandal? Does Nadia have the courage to leave her father on his own, or will be she make the decision to stay and forever be bound to this town. Is there a future for Nadia and Luke, or is Luke’s future with Aubrey and will she even allow a future to happen?
Does Nadia have the courage to leave her father on his own, or will be she make the decision to stay and forever be bound to this town.?Is there a future for Nadia and Luke, or is Luke’s future with Aubrey and will she even allow a future to happen?
Is there a future for Nadia and Luke, or is Luke’s future with Aubrey and will she even allow a future to happen?
The Mothers was a novel I found hard to put down, reading it in just a few hours. It is a powerful, extremely well-written story about living with the decisions we make, accepting the impact they can have on our lives as well as others, and moving on from the past.
The Mothers by Britt Bennett is available from Dymocks