The Other Mother, by Gwendolen Gross, published by Shaye AreHeart Books, 2007
I have to admit when I first read the tag-line on The Other Mother, by Gwendolen Gross, I almost let the novel pass me by: “A gripping story that takes both sides of the Mommy Wars.” This novel happened to arrive the week I temporarily lost my sanity and posted my opinion on Moms who put their kids in day care and call it school. Weary from the loads of both hate mail and “you go girl” mail, I thought that reviewing a book on the so-called “Mommy Wars” was the last thing that me and MommyBlog needed. I am so glad that I dug in instead.
I stayed up late and read this truly compelling novel in two nights flat. The Other Mother tells the tale of two neighbors: Tess, a stay-at-home mom of three, and Amanda, a pregnant working woman who intends to return to her career after her maternity leave. Within months of living next door to each other, an unexpected event has Amanda and her husband, along with their infant daughter, moving into Tess’ house. As Amanda’s maternity leave ends with no nanny or day care yet selected, Tess offers to become a temporary nanny until a permanent solution arises.
The absolute uniqueness of this book lies in the fact that Gross so deftly tells both sides of the story, with characters so rich and real they could be you and me, it becomes nearly impossible not to root for both characters. The tension she invokes that lies not only between the two women, but within themselves, is absorbing; in this novel, both are right, and both are passionately committed to their separate ideas of what being a mother means.
My favorite aspect of the novel were the descriptions of the love and frustrations each woman experienced with her children. The scenes where Amanda is nursing in those early weeks of “the thick trall of milky exhaustion” made me believe that it was just yesterday that I’d brought Kenny home from the hospital, nursing around the clock, and swamped with love as he tugged at my breasts. And the moments when Tess tries to reason with her two-year-old daughter, all the while knowing that there is no reasoning with a two-year-old, made me cackle at my own occasionally inane attempts to reason with Kenny on an adult level. Gross’ writing is raw in depicting the heart of a mother, and the struggle that we, as women, have with our own identity.
I believe that all mothers have a nagging fear that we are doing it wrong, or at the very least, not doing it right sometimes. The Other Mother captures all of those insecurities and whirls them around in the blender, challenging you to see the other side of the story. There were moments of reading where I found knots in my stomach, and moments where I thought, “Ok – I think I must be doing the Mommy thing OK.”
I think this is an excellent book for any mom to read – whether your children are infants, toddlers or teenagers; whether you work at home, away from home or find that your home is your work. I promise that you will not only see other moms differently, but that you might see yourself a little differently, too.
Please visit Gwendolen Gross’ website: www.gwendolengross.com, for details on where to buy the book, and to read other reviews. She also hosts an online writers workshop for moms who want to write, which I am still getting the nerve up to jump into. Happy Reading!