Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

This is a much talked about book of 2022 and for good reason. 

The woman of this novel has given up her career as an artist – she had a dream job at a gallery – in order to care for her son. The maths, as is so often the case, helped in this decision. She earned less than her husband and, on top of that, she felt the pain of leaving her son to scream at daycare. So she is at home, all day, and for most of the week – as her husband is away for work – with only her two-year-old son for company.

What Yoder does so brilliantly – and I would recommend reading reviews of this novel just to see how unsettling some find it – is express the passive aggressive rage that builds up in a mother (I would say a care-giver of any gender in the same situation) who has been told she should be able to have it all, who has been told that feminism has done its job, and discovers with the arrival of her child that she is the ultimate authority over and caregiver for the baby and that, though it is exceedingly hard, tiring (and of course also fun and rewarding at times) work, no one in the world of paid work considers motherhood to be work. A woman who gives up her job to care for her child should consider herself to be luckily luxuriating in all that free time.

This is what makes the book so addictive to anyone of a certain western privileged perspective, who has experienced modern motherhood. It is not all sunshine and light and, whatever your gender, being the default carer (where do you keep the nappies? They just can’t sleep without you etc. etc.) is tiring work. But we have such veneration for the stereotypes of motherhood that we really struggle with any representation that adds complexity and nuance.

In this representation, the mother starts to grow hair and her teeth begin to sharpen. Her olfactory senses heighten. She begins to enjoy the taste of raw meat. 

Her husband thinks this is all ridiculous, the result of lack of sleep and melodrama. But the mother finds a book in the library that offers insight into a world of magical female creatures existing among us. And so Nightbitch is born.

It is, of course, much more complex than this. I’m not going to say too much more because, even though I felt a bit disappointed by the ending (maybe you can have it all?), the journey there is so damn good that I don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s the kind of book that people will want to recommend and lend and talk about and it deserves to be part of a larger conversation that reexamines our maternal stereotypes and values childcare, care-giving in general, much more highly. Also, can we please stop talking about whether we like characters or not? No one reads American Psycho and says but I just didn’t like him. I’m not saying that this female character is at all comparable to Patrick Bateman, but the horror induced by an unlikeable female character is ridiculous (I think I liked the main character, mostly, by the way). 

I’ll be reviewing the children’s book, Ghostcloud by Michael Mann next.