Motherhood by Sheila Heti

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The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

This week for The Stacks Book Club, author Jo Piazza and I discussed Sheila Heti’s newest book, Motherhood. You can listen to our full conversation here. There are no spoilers on this episode so feel free to enjoy.

If you are not familiar with Motherhood here is what the book is about

In Motherhood, Sheila Heti asks what is gained and what is lost when a woman becomes a mother, treating the most consequential decision of early adulthood with the candor, originality, and humor that have won Heti international acclaim and made How Should A Person Be? required reading for a generation.

In her late thirties, when her friends are asking when they will become mothers, the narrator of Heti’s intimate and urgent novel considers whether she will do so at all. In a narrative spanning several years, casting among the influence of her peers, partner, and her duties to her forbearers, she struggles to make a wise and moral choice. After seeking guidance from philosophy, her body, mysticism, and chance, she discovers her answer much closer to home.


Motherhood is a work of biographical fiction, a genre of which I’ve not read much. In This case, the book feels like it is Heti’s own life and thoughts, but shielded loosely by the idea that it is still fiction. The book essentially feels like a memoir with the caveat that it is not one. The main character is even named Sheila. While I’m no expert on this genre, it felt nearly impossible to distinguish between the author and the “characters”. For me, this was the  biggest barrier to really diving into the book. I was constantly trying to figure out what was biography and what was fiction.

Heti’s writing is beautiful (and also somewhat experimental), and many of the debates she has with herself through the course of the book about childrearing are wonderful. She examines many facets of motherhood. including difficulty getting pregnant and abortions. I could relate to the questions she asked herself, if this was the right path for her and her life and her partner. There are conversations around what it means for a Jewish woman, who is a descendant of Holocaust survivors, to not want to have children. Heti explores what happens to a woman’s creativity if she decides to have children. These ideas are important and nuanced and interesting and I’m glad she brings them up.

The overall tone of this book is mostly cynical. The conversation doesn’t feel balanced, nor does Heti seem to be weighing the options equally. She taps into the anxiety around loss of self accurately, but misses the value added that children can bring. I’ve not had kids, and I am currently weighing my options about having them, and while I can relate to her doubts, I do wish the joys were presented more evenly. Motherhood leans into the anxiety and never lets up. She makes her point early on, and the book could end, but instead she labors with her thinking, as if to prove the tediousness of her thought process. I would have loved the book as an article in The New Yorker (long, but not book long).

Motherhood is not for everyone. I would even venture to say it is not for most people. If you’re interested a meditation on having children, and you like beautiful and experimental prose, this might be a nice fit. If you prefer your fiction to be traditional you might skip this one. There are also plenty of memoirs that examine these same questions without the guise of fiction that could feel more straightforward.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Jo Piazza discussing Motherhood.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st Edition edition (May 1, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Motherhood on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club September Books

51A119E3-B576-4C05-8FB4-5B0A3767316AIts time to announce our September book club books. We have two acclaimed novels in September and we could not be more excited.

We will discuss our first book of the month, Motherhood by Sheila Heti on September 12th. Motherhood is a novel that examines what is gained and what is lost when a woman becomes a mother.

On September 26th, we will be discussing this year’s Pulitzer Prize winning work of fiction, Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Less is about a struggling novelist who decides to travel the world instead of subject himself to the awkwardness of attending his ex’s wedding.

Here is how The Stacks Book Club works, you read the books and we talk about them on the podcast. If you ever have questions you want answered, send them our way, and we’ll do out best to include them in our discussions. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our September books on Amazon:

If you want to have input on future books we discuss on this show, become a member of The Stacks Pack by clicking here.

The Stacks received both of these book for free from the publishers. For more information on our commitment to honesty and transparency click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

B5DEB0BF-DB0D-48AD-9963-60B75E9C0F0BAs far as I can tell, An American Marriage has been the most hyped and talked about book in 2018. The day the book was released it was also announced that it would be part of Oprah’s Book Club which is about as much buzz as a new book can get. So before I read this book (which I of course ordered as soon as I saw it was on Oprah’s list) I knew I was in for something.

If you don’t know much about this book, here is a little synopsis.

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

Before I go further, I am trying to talk about An American Marriage without spoilers, but if you haven’t read the book, you might want to proceed with caution.

I enjoyed this book. I read it in about three sittings, the writing is smooth and easy to consume. While I wanted to know what came next, I had already figured out what would happen. There were no surprises (for me). I just wanted to hear Jones tell me her story. Jones is the MVP of this book. She creates a story that is nothing special, with characters that are polarizing and mostly unlikeable (I know some of you might disagree), that I still wanted to read and know where everyone ends up. The book is neither plot driven nor a full introspection on the characters, its somewhere in between. Its a good place to be.

As a reader the main question of this book, is which character do you want to come out on top. Whose side are you on? I had a hard time picking sides. While I felt for Roy, (how could you not?) I also felt for Celestial. Twelve years isn’t a life sentence, but its long enough to destroy a marriage, especially one thats only 18 months old. Its not so much looking for excuses or passing blame, its just that for me, none of it was simple or cut and dry. I could understand where they were coming from and wish it could’ve all played out differently. Or at least that they both had mediators to help them communicate with each other.

Let me also say this, loud and clear, Andre is the worst. What a cornball. I’ll take any team he is not on. Andre is a strong no for me. I couldn’t let this review proceed any further with out getting that all off my chest.

What I’ve discovered from discussing this book with friends and family, is that we all bring to this book whatever we feel about marriage. Thats what makes this book powerful, and worthy of praise, and continued conversation. We all look at Roy and Celestial and we see ourselves and our partners, our failed and successful relationships. The ones that got away, and what we attribute to a successful relationship.  The things we each value most in love; loyalty, forgiveness, communication, physical connection, are the things we base our arguments on for why we’re #TeamRoy or #TeamCelestial. That is the beauty of the book. No matter what you think of the characters and their choices, you see yourself in it, you see yourself navigating this most terrible of situations.

I recommend this book. I’m glad I read it, and met these characters and saw their world. I don’t know that it will stick with me for years to come. I enjoyed it in the moment. It touches on wrongful convictions in a important way, and in a way I’ve never seen in fiction before. Jones asks us to look at the cost of incarceration on those who are ultimately cleared for their crimes. For that alone, this book is worth reading, and lucky for us this book takes on even more. I can’t wait for the movie, it must be coming right?

And since I know you all want to know, and since we’re picking teams, I’m going on the record as #TeamTayari all the way.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; Oprah’s Book Club edition (February 6, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy An American Marriage on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

 

Ep. 6 Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin — The Stacks Book Club (Chris Maddox)

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgOn this week of The Stacks, we discuss Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin with our guest, TV writer Chris Maddox.

Giovanni’s Room is a classic American novel written in 1956, and the topics of masculinity, isolation, and love deferred are as relevant now as they were then. Our conversation traverses these themes from the book and more, like what we think of the title and who we think should star in the film version.
 
There are spoilers in this episode, so if you’ve yet to read the book proceed with caution.
Here are other things that we talked about this week on The Stacks.509E8204-E248-4688-A6D3-EC4A5C6E722C

Connect with The Stacks: iTunes| WebsiteInstagramFacebook | TwitterGoodreads |Traci’s Instagram

Connect with Chris: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

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To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here