Motherkind

Jayne Anne Phillips, Author
Jayne Anne Phillips, Author Alfred A. Knopf $24 (304p) ISBN 978-0-375-40194-7
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7927-2402-5
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-375-70192-4
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A meticulous writer, Phillips has produced only four books to date, including the novels Machine Dreams and Shelter, in which she explored the paradoxes of existence from the points of view of youthful characters. This deeply felt, profoundly affecting novel, her best so far, exhibits a maturity of vision both keen and wistful. On a summer day, 30-year-old Kate Tateman flies to her Appalachian hometown to tell her mother, Katherine, that she is pregnant. Always a nonconformist, one who felt most in tune with herself during an itinerant year in Sri Lanka, India and Nepal, Kate is not yet married to the baby's father, Matthew, whose divorce is in progress. During the course of the following 18 months, we watch Kate give birth to a son, Tatie; care for Katherine--who has cancer, and decides to move in with Kate and Matt in Boston so she can live to see the baby--and serve as surrogate mother to Matthew's unruly sons, Sam, eight, and Josh, six, who resent her for destroying their home. The narrative captures the quotidian rhythms of domesticity, the stresses of childraising and of nursing the sick, creating a focused yet universal world. A progression of caregiving women help Kate through these life passages: a helper for newborns, various babysitters and the hospice nurses who arrive when Katherine becomes moribund. Phillips explores the intuitive bond between mothers and daughters with unforced grace. All the characters are articulate and introspective; they ponder the human condition, yet function in the daily sphere, with dialogue so easy and true it seems inevitable. While absorbed in the discomforts of childbearing, Kate ruminates about the continuum of time that sweeps her mother toward ""the chasm of death""--even as little Tatie thrives and Sam and Josh gradually become integrated into their father's new household. Kate conjectures ""that all lines of transit came together in a starry radiance too bright to observe."" Amid the inexorable approach of death, the messy certitude and fecund abundance of human life resonate throughout this compassionate and spiritually nourishing novel. 50,000 first printing. (May)
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