Motherhood and Madness: A short review of “Nightbitch” by Rachel Yoder

“How many generations of women had delayed their greatness only to have time extinguish it completely? How many women had run out of time while the men didn’t know what to do with theirs? And what a mean trick to call such things holy or selfless. How evil to praise women for giving up each and every dream.”

Nightbitch is the Metamorphosis for angry and fed up women. The unnamed protagonist, a stay at home mum with a hyperactive toddler and an always absent husband, finds herself slowly transforming into a feral canine. We follow her around living her middle class sanitised suburban life, trying to be a “normal” mother when what she really wants to do is frolic in the playground, pounce on the bunnies, eat raw meat, and lovingly lick her son’s head. We also get to see how she is being swallowed by her desire to make art again and the guilt of feeling that motherhood isn’t enough for her.

How, and why, and exactly what Nightbitch is, is never fully explained, and doesn’t need to be, but she finds succour in a book at her local library titled ‘A Field Guide to Magical Women’, which paraphrases the novel’s central themes: “To what identities do women turn when those available to them fail? How do women expand their identities to encompass all parts of their beings?”

The two predominant strains of maternal commentary in the 21st century can be summarized as “Mothers cannot possibly do all that is asked of them” and “Mothers are capable of anything.” Each affirms the other: mothers simultaneously cannot live up to both maxims, and they have little choice but to try. Yoder believes both, and neither, and her novel happily occupies a floating realm between them.

I enjoyed the author’s choice to contrast the gothic trappings of the novel with a chatty tone. I also like how Yoder was able to harness familiar tropes of individual transfiguration to a broader social critique. The wit and humour of Yoder’s writing will lure you in but it’s her handling of motherhood’s overarching issues that will make you stay. I totally recommend it for a short and entertaining read.

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