Author: Aimee Molloy
The Perfect Mother starts with the hints of a classic revenge story and then morphs itself into a thriller. The story focuses on the May Mothers, a group of woman who met online – think the Meetup App – and choose to experience their first pregnancies, and all the questions and unknowns that come along for the ride, together. They’re all due in May (hence the name) and in between there are discussions on diapers and the best brand of strollers and the jealousies – and the questions – that wend their way through the sultry summer gatherings. The women don’t know each other beyond their birth stories and the newfound terrors of parenthood. And it’s all a little too perfect, too freshly veneered.
The new mothers, guided by the exceptionally incautious, party-girl Nell, decide it’s time to discover themselves again, if only for a few hours, and head out to the local bar, baby and husband free. Most everyone is ready for the chance to catch a collective break anyway, even if Nell’s all out drunken approach to the bash raises more than a few eyebrows. Only Winnie, alone, tied to her baby monitor app, and unable to move beyond a certain fear for her new son, doesn’t want to go. When the group cajoles Winnie anyway and the worse happens though, how can they ever forgive themselves?
Winnie’s missing son, Midas, is soon making headlines, as is everything about the May Mother’s most secretly glamorous and aloof patron. Who took Midas and why? Is Winnie as innocent as she seems? What does all her money and sheltered privacy really mean? Are the May Mothers just new parents finding their way or is there something inherently more sinister living and breathing in the group – maybe the group’s aptly named token dad for instance? What does it mean to be a good, much less a perfect, mother and how much is unfair societal judgment and how much is truly terrible decisions? What is the price for both?
These questions haunt the novel’s four main narrators. We have Nell, memorable as the woman who started the group’s interference into Winnie’s life and the party girl who remembers little to nothing of the night Midas was taken – and her part in it. Then we have Francie, sleep deprived and obsessed with tormenting the police and playing amateur sleuth. Collette works for the mayor as a ghost writer and as such gets rather convenient access to files she should never have seen. And then, Winnie, who rarely speaks.
It’s a good setup and even better premise. Yet for all the promise, Perfect Mother is really just another average thriller. The characters, of which there are too many, melt together, and their separate sections just lend a choppy, disconcerting feel instead of tying together the collective unease of the new mothers. Nell, at least, stands out a little, if only for her bar room fail, but Francie and Collette are indistinguishable, as are the other members of the group who flit on the periphery (seemingly just as scenery.)
Despite all the time spent with these women, neither they nor their babies are really characterized. This comes into play when the mothers go Rambo and attempt to take on an investigation, at the seeming prodding of a killer, despite the danger to their families. Really, only Nell even has true claim to the guilty conscious, and the others just fall into line more for plot purpose than anything else. The final revelation is your classic bait and switch with the kidnapper being a side-side-side character (the scenery lives) with an exceptionally weak motive. It’s very little payoff after all the build-up and the revengy first chapter.
In the end, Perfect Mother is a fun read – the sort of beach thriller that won’t have you sighing and sipping margaritas but engaged and having fun in a casual sort of way. It really does have the potential, both in the concept of the kidnapped baby (not in the actual kidnapper and that forced story) and the May Mother’s themselves – a group of newbies working through their fears facing the greatest fear for their child possible. It’s just, alas, like most thrillers: it’s so good yet so terribly underdeveloped, relying on the “thriller” title and people’s love of the genre to get away with minimal actual effort, including character development and the finishing of a clever plot in an equally clever delivery. Recommended, but only casually.
– Frances Carden
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