In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman’s marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish free town where she grew up. There, she is welcomed by Malkah, the brilliant grandmother who raised her, and meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions–and the ability to kill….
I picked this up because of how incredibly moved I was by Woman on the Edge of Time (review) by the same author. While I found this interesting and unique, it didn’t move me in quite the same way. I imagine it would probably move a reader more if they are Jewish or a mother.
The book is richly steeped in Jewish culture and history. All of Earth is either a slum or run by corporations in basically corporate states except for a few free towns which manage to exist due to their value in trade. Tikva is one of these, and it’s made clear this is partially so because the founders were concerned about maintaining Jewish culture in a world being overcome by just a few corporations. The corporation Shira works at before returning to Tikva judges her in her performance reviews for staying too attached to her home culture, including things like naming her son a traditionally Jewish name. So there is this very interesting thread about how minority cultures can maintain themselves in the face of economic threat and assimilation. When Shira gets a divorce, the corporation grants majority custody to her ex-husband and ultimately essentially full custody when he is sent to work off-world. Overcome with grief, Shira moves home to Tikva. Here we learn that Shira’s grandmother Malkah raised her and see how differently her own mother approaches motherhood than Shira does. This is one of the key threads of the book.
The other key thread is personhood and what makes us human. One of the residents of Tikva has succeeded in making an illegal cyborg. There are periodic chapters where Malkah is telling him the story of the Jewish myth of the Golem (a human-like beast made of clay to protect the Jewish people from persecution. More info). Very clear lines are drawn between the golem and the modern-day cyborg, who was made to protect Tikva and keep it free. Of course people start to have mixed feelings about the cyborg and asking not just what makes him human but also if he can be Jewish? (He himself identifies as Jewish and attends synagogue). I particularly enjoyed that Malkah isn’t just the story teller to the cyborb but she’s also one of the most important and most intelligent programmers in Tikva. The programmers essentially are what keep Tikva free, and an elderly woman is one of the most important ones.
Even though it’s a topic I’ve read a lot in scifi, I always enjoy the exploration of what makes us human and at what point does intelligent technology gain personhood, and the way it was explored here was different from what I’ve seen elsewhere. In particular, I thought the not just female but female Jewish lens was new and great. But I will admit that I had trouble relating to Shira and her struggle with motherhood and types of motherhood. I think motherhood can sometimes be overly thought about and held up on a pedestal in our culture and in feminism too. While mothers who choose to mother differently are acknowledged in the book, women who choose not to mother are not. It’s as if mothering is a natural part of womanhood, and that was not something I felt I could connect to in the book.
Overall, though, this was a wonderfully different take on the scifi exploration of cyborgs and artificial intelligence. Recommended to scifi readers, but particularly to those seeking a Jewish lens or an exploration of motherhood in addition to cyborgs.
4 out of 5 stars
Malorie thought the hardest thing she was going to have to face was dealing with her pregnancy and impending single motherhood. She thought the warnings about seeing something that makes you go crazy and become violent was just the news blowing things out of proportion, or at least just hysteria. Her sister believed in it, but not herself.
But that was all years ago, and now Malorie is alone in a house with her two children. Children who have never been outside without blindfolds on. She only leaves the house blindfolded, tapping the ground with a stick to find the well. But now it is time for her to be brave and to take a boat on the river, just she and her two children, blindfolded, in the hopes of finding salvation.
I was drawn to this book for two reasons. First, the mere thought of a mother and two young children boating down a river blindfolded had me intrigued. Second, it’s set in Michigan, which is where my husband is from, and honestly I can’t recall the last time I saw a book set in Michigan. These two elements came together to tell me this book is probably unique. So when I saw the kindle version on sale on Amazon, I snatched it up. What I found was a chilling tale that could easily fit within the Lovecraft mythos.
The order the story is told in helps build the suspense and keeps it from being a same old apocalypse and survivors’ tale. The book opens with Malorie and her two children living alone in the house. It opens post-apocalyptic. Through flashbacks we learn various things such as who used to live in the house with Malorie, why there are certain parts of the house she doesn’t like to go to, and why neither she nor the children leave the house without blindfolds on. From here, the reader is then taken forward into Malorie’s action onto the river, going down it trying to find a safe haven of other survivors that she knows used to be there years ago. It’s a nice combination of flashback and plot progression forward that keeps the suspense interesting.
It is no spoiler to say that what caused the apocalypse is something that causes people to go stark raving mad when they see it. This is included in the official book blurb. What was interesting to me was how Malerman kept this from being purely straight-forward. Some characters believe in the mysterious creatures right away, others don’t. Some think that merely believing it will cause you to go crazy makes you go crazy. Some think that some are affected and others aren’t. Some wonder if animals are affected too, and no one knows where the creatures came from or, if you don’t believe in the creatures, how the phenomenon started. The lack of clear-cut answers reflects reality. In general, with large-scale catastrophes, it’s hard to know exactly what happened or what is going on. This lack of knowing made the situation read as real, even if the exact situation is an absurd sounding one at first.
I was also struck by how well Malerman wrote a female version of experiencing the apocalypse. Malorie is both focused on surviving for herself and her baby but also distracted from the apocalypse because she is having normal hormonal reactions to pregnancy. Similarly, while some characters embrace her as a symbol of hope, others see her as a burden. Malorie was a refreshing change from the young, virile, kick-ass heroine often seen in post-apocalyptic books. She is strong, yes, but not in a kick-ass way. She is strong in a she’s doing her best to be a good mom and still survive type way. And that’s a nice thing to see in post-apocalyptic horror fiction.
The book naturally ends up pondering “madness” a lot. The creatures drive any who see them into near-caricature depictions of madness. Sometimes the person becomes violent against others. Sometimes the person turns on themselves, killing themselves or self-injuring to the extent that they die. There are a lot of questions about what the human mind can handle. There is a lot of argument in the book for agency against all odds.
It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces. (loc 4034)
On the one hand, I appreciate the argument for agency and fighting for your sanity and humanity. On the other hand, I’m not sure how I feel about a metaphor where madness happens to people who just aren’t careful enough or don’t have enough of a plan. While it’s valid that a mental illness must be fought every day and some have more natural resiliency than others, there’s a tone of blame to the theme that strikes me the wrong way.
At one point, it is postulated that perhaps the only ones immune to being driven mad by the creatures are those who are already mentally ill because they are already mad. There is no science behind this thought. There is simply a character who appears to have paranoid schizophrenia who firmly believes the creatures are not actually dangerous because he has seen them and is fine. Yet he is a character who ends up instigating an incredibly violent scene. While it is true that there are violent extremes of mental illness, there are also those that are not. The book fails to bring out the subtleties and varieties of mental illness. Imagine the power that could have been from a character who had, for instance, OCD and was able to see the creatures and interact with them without harming anyone and able to understand that others cannot see them safely. Imagine if it was simply that seeing the world differently already, being abnormal, protected one from being driven truly mad by the creatures. What an interesting direction that could have taken the story.
Thus, in general, while I appreciate the more unique and interesting things the book did, such as focusing on a pregnant woman and then a young mother as the main character and telling the plot in a non-linear way, ultimately the book did not push the boundaries or the ideas far enough to truly enrapture me. Recommended to horror, Lovecraft, and post-apocalyptic fans looking for a read with a young mother as the focus.
4 out of 5 stars
Miriam Black is on her own once again after sending her truck driver boyfriend to the curb. She’s taken to periodically messing with fate by killing the killers she sees in her visions of the deaths of the people she touches. When she gets an offer on Craigslist to read someone’s future death in Florida, it comes at a time when she can’t pass it up, as a recently homeless person. She heads to Florida figuring she might also tackle the demon of her relationship with her mother. Two birds, one stone. But Florida ends up being much more than a quick job and a quick visit.
I snatch up a new Miriam Black book the first chance I get because I so love the prose style of the books (I’m uncertain if Wendig’s other books read similarly, as I haven’t read any), and I also love Miriam as a character very much (I would definitely run the other way if I spotted her on the street at night). This third entry in the series didn’t disappoint, although I periodically wondered if Miriam’s bad-assness would be sacrificed for character growth.
The urban fantasy world of Miriam Black continues to be slowly fleshed out in this book. We meet a couple more characters with supernatural abilities, not exactly Miriam’s but similar in that they function in the mind. We also start to understand what might cause such a thing to happen. And how Wendig presents this information is beautifully crafted. It is a part of the story, a wonderful example of showing not telling.
Miriam doesn’t just cause chaos and get away with it, and this book fairly clearly exists to show us that Miriam is not invincible, even if she may sometimes seem it in earlier books. She’s a tough broad with a mental gift brutally acquired, and she’s trying to figure out how to function and do the right thing in this incredibly fucked up situation where she is battling unknown forces, particularly fate.
The plot forces Miriam to confront two bad specters from her past: an ex lover and her mother. I was fine with confronting the ex lover, and how it went down made sense. I was incredibly wary of her confrontations with her mother. Her mother was established as a fundamentalist abusive ball of shit in the previous books, and I was deeply concerned that Wendig was going to try to either make it seem like it was all in Miriam’s head or offer redemption for her. And the plot does sometimes dance on the edge of doing one or the other of these. But the way Miriam reacts to her mother in their confrontations help keep it grounded and realistic that not all mothers are great people. In one confrontation she tells her mother,
Don’t act surprised that I have this cyanide cocktail in my heart. Like they say on that old dumb-ass drug commercial: I learned it by watching you. (loc 1824)
On the other hand, an awful lot of the plot revolves around Miriam saving her mother from her untimely death at the hands of a kidnapper. I just have a hard time believing, especially given the vitriol Miriam has felt for her mother this entire time, that she would actually care that much if her mother dies. I get it that Miriam might very much not want the kidnapper to get away with it, because she hates him and he’s fucking with her, but I don’t think Miriam would actually get misty-eyed at the thought of her mother’s untimely demise. It felt forced instead of being Miriam. That said, the plot does manage to stick to its guns enough that Miriam comes out of the situation still seeming like her cyanide-filled self, so I can’t fault it too much for veering that close to the edge.
I would be amiss not to mention the fact that his book establishes the fact that Miriam is bisexual. Of course, she refuses to use the term herself, and I’m fairly certain no one actually ever calls her bi. Normally a bi character refusing to call herself bi would drive me batty, but Miriam refusing labels fits 100% into her character. She doesn’t see the need to label who she fucks and other characters’ attempts to figure her out are met with disgust on her part but that’s how she feels about everything about herself. Yes, I wish more functional non-cyanide cocktail hearted characters were bi, but I also am pretty darn happy that a character I enjoy so much is bi. Plus, scenes of Miriam banging a woman were an unexpected utter delight.
The plot does a great job of being both a single book conflict and something that ultimately propels the overarching plot forward, which is exactly what one hopes for from a series book.
The writing style maintains its gritty sharpness that the series has enjoyed from the beginning. Both the narration and the conversations are a pleasure to read. Passages like those listed below are peppered throughout the book, accosting the reader with the knowledge that we are in Miriam’s world now.
Meetings are like black holes: they eat up the hours, they suck in the light, they gorge on his productivity. (loc 92)
I’m a certified bad-ass indestructible bitch. The sun tries to burn me, I’ll kick him in his fiery balls. I don’t need no stinking suntan lotion. (loc 2787)
Overall, this book brings most things readers have come to expect from a Miriam Black book. A gritty female main character with hard-hitting prose and a plot with a touch of the fantastic and grotesque. Some fans might be a bit disappointed by the direction Miriam’s relationship with her mother goes, but all readers will be pumped by the ending and eagerly anticipating the next entry. Recommended that fans of the first two books pick this one asap.
4 out of 5 stars
Book Review: Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride
A guidebook for adult women raised by a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Dr. McBride is a therapist with many years of experience treating daughters of NPD mothers and also with treating people with NPD. Additionally, she herself is the daughter of a woman with NPD. The book is divided into three sections to help the daughters of mothers with NPD to heal and take charge of their lives. The first section “Recognizing the Problem,” explains what maternal NPD looks like. The second section, “How Narcissistic Mothering Affects Your Entire Life,” explains the impact NPD mothers have on their daughters, both as children and as adults. The third section, “Ending the Legacy” is all about healing from the NPD mothering and breaking the cycle of Narcissism. Dr. McBride offers clinical examples from her practice as well as detailed, clearly explained exercises to aid with healing.
It’s not easy to find a book addressing healing from abuse that manages to walk the fine line of understanding for all involved and absolute condemnation of the abusive actions and that simultaneously encourages agency and healing without making the survivor become stuck in a victim’s mentality. Dr. McBride strikes this balance eloquently.
The three sections of the book work perfectly for guiding the reader through understanding precisely what happened in her childhood, how it impacts her adulthood, and how to regain agency of herself and her life. NPD is not a mental illness that is well-understood or recognized. The first section thus must explain NPD and how NPD leads to abusive mothering without demonizing the mother suffering from NPD. It is incredibly difficult not to demonize people with NPD. People with NPD tend to be self-centered, manipulative, and resistant to treatment. McBride manages to simultaneously describe the person with NPD in a sympathetic light and condemn their behavior. This section also serves to provide an aha moment for the reader. It will immediately be clear if your mother has/had NPD or not, and if she does/did, it will shine a light on the daughter’s childhood, proving she is not crazy or ungrateful. Some of the signs of a mother with NPD include: the mother demanding praise for everything she’s ever done for the daughter, a lack of compassion or empathy for the daughter, approval for who the mother wants the daughter to be instead of who she is, the mother perceives of the daughter as a threat, the mother is jealous of the daughter for various reasons, the mother is overly critical or judgmental, the mother uses the daughter as a scapegoat for her bad feelings, the mother treats the daughter like a friend, no boundaries or privacy, the mother involves the daughter prematurely in the adult world, and more.
This section also explains why the book is only about daughters of mothers with NPD and not for her sons as well.
A mother, however, is her daughter’s primary role model for developing as an individual, lover, wife, mother, and friend, and aspects of maternal narcissism tend to damage daughters in particularly insidious ways. Because the mother-daughter dynamic is distinctive, the daughter of a narcissistic mother faces unique struggles that her brothers don’t share….A narcissistic mother sees her daughter, more than her son, as a reflection and extension of herself rather than as a separate person with her own identity. She puts pressure on her daughter to act and react to the world and her surroundings in the exact manner that Mom would, rather than in a way that feels right for the daughter. (6-7)
The next section looks at what impact being raised by a mother with NPD has on the daughter’s adult life. McBride factually explains where some of the daughter’s less healthy behaviors and thought processes may come from without falling into the trap many childhood healing books fall into of repeatedly directing negative energy toward the parent. Some of the issues that may be present in an adult daughter raised by a mother with NPD include: high-achieving or self-sabotaging or waffling between the two, difficulty understanding and processing feelings, inappropriate love relationships that are dependent or codependent or giving up on relationships entirely, fear of becoming a mother herself, unconsciously mimicking her mother’s parenting with her own children or doing the exact opposite of what her mother did.
The final section is all about the daughter healing, overcoming, and taking agency for herself. McBride encourages therapy, but also offers at-home tips and exercises for those who cannot afford it. An example of one of these is the “internal mother” exercise. This exercise involves many steps, but it essentially seeks to replace the internal negative messages the daughter has from her own mother with more positive messages that are the type the daughter wanted from her real mother. The daughter grieves the mother she never got to have and learns to parent herself. Much of the work in this section involves grieving the mother and childhood the daughter never got to have, accepting it for what it is, giving herself the encouragement and mothering she needs, learning to set boundaries, and the daughter coming to be in charge of her own life. The exercises are not simple and may seem a bit overwhelming to the reader at first, but they do serve to mimic the real therapy process, encouraging introspection, journaling, grieving, and behavioral changes.
One thing I really appreciate about McBride’s approach is how she handles the adult relationship between daughter and mother. She 100% encourages the daughter to make the choice that is right for her own emotional health and that simultaneously does not expect miracles from her mother. Since most people with NPD don’t receive successful treatment, McBride carefully admonishes the daughter to base her decision based on her mother’s proven behavior. She encourages setting clear boundaries, and individuating oneself from mother. But she also acknowledges that having a relationship at all with a mother with severe NPD might not be possible.
We have to acknowledge that a narcissistic mother may be too toxic to be around. In many situations, daughters have to make the choice to disconnect completely from their mothers because the toxicity damages their emotional well-being. While others around you may not understand it, this is a decision that you get to make for your own mental health. (184)
Refusing to give one-size-fits-all advice on the relationship between a narcissistic mother and her adult daughter is just one example of the many positives of this book. McBride offers insight, advice, and isn’t afraid to say what might be painful to hear. She has done an excellent job putting the therapy process into book format, as much as possible.
Overall, this book tackles an incredibly difficult topic in an even-handed, clear manner. Its focus on just daughters of mothers with NPD allows Dr. McBride to give targeted examples and advice to the reader. It never excuses the mother’s behavior, firmly condemning it, but still exhibits compassion for the mother suffering from NPD. Any woman who thinks she may have been raised by a woman with NPD should read this book and see if any of it rings true for her. Additionally recommended to anyone interested in how NPD impacts parenting and the next generation.
5 out of 5 stars
Miriam Black is an early 20-something drifter with bleach blonde hair and a surprising ability to hold her own in a fight. She also knows when and precisely how you’re going to die. Only if you touch her skin-on-skin though. And it’s because of this skill that Miriam became a drifter. You try dealing with seeing that every time you touch someone. But when a kind trucker gives her a lift and in her vision of his death she hears him speak her name, her entire crazy life takes an even crazier turn.
This is one of those books that is very difficult to categorize. I want to call it urban fantasy, but it doesn’t have much supernatural about it, except for the ability to see deaths. The world isn’t swimming in vampires or werewolves of goblins. I also want to call it a thriller what with the whole try to stop the trucker from dying bit but it’s so much more than chills and whodunit (or in this case, who will do it). Its dark, gritty style reminds me of Palahniuk, so I suppose what might come the closest would be a Palahniuk-esque urban fantasy lite thriller. What I think sums it up best, though, is a quote from Miriam herself:
It starts with my mother….Boys get fucked up by their fathers, right? That’s why so many tales are really Daddy Issue stories at their core, because men run the world, and men get to tell their stories first. If women told most of the stories, though, then all the best stories would be about Mommy Problems. (location 1656)
So, yes, it is all of those things, but it’s also a Mommy Problems story, and that is just a really nice change of pace. Mommy Problems wrapped in violence and questioning of fate.
The tone of the entire book is spot on for the type of story it’s telling. Dark and raw with a definite dead-pan, tongue-in-cheek style sense of humor. For instance, each chapter has an actual title, and these give you a hint of what is to come within that chapter, yet you will still somehow manage to be surprised. The story is broken up by an interview with Miriam at some other point in time, and how this comes into play with the rest of the storyline is incredibly well-handled. It’s some of the best story structuring I’ve seen in a while, and it’s also a breath of fresh air.
Miriam is also delightful because she is unapologetically ribald and violent. This is so rare to find in heroines.
We’re not talking zombie sex; he didn’t come lurching out of the grave dirt to fill my living body with his undead baby batter. (location 2195)
As a female reader who loves this style, it was just delightful to read something featuring a character of this style who is also a woman. It’s hard to find them, and I like that Wendig went there.
While I enjoyed the plot structure, tone, and characters, the extreme focus on fate was a bit iffy to me. There were passages discussing fate that just fell flat for me. I’m also not sure of how I feel about the resolution. However, I’m also well aware that this is the beginning of a series, so perhaps it’s just that the overarching world rules are still a bit too unclear for me to really appreciate precisely what it is that Miriam is dealing with. This is definitely the first book in the series in that while some plot lines are resolved, the main one is not. If I’d had the second book to jump right into I would have. I certainly hope that the series ultimately addresses the fate question in a satisfactory way, but at this point it is still unclear if it will.
Overall, this is a dark, gritty tale that literally takes urban fantasy on a hitchhiking trip down the American highway. Readers who enjoy a ribald sense of humor and violence will quickly latch on to this new series. Particularly recommended to readers looking for strong, realistic female leads.
4 out of 5 stars
Alaric lives in the crumbling Withern Rise house with his widowed father. Nothing has been the same since his mother’s death in a train accident two years ago. Now his dad is off helping his girlfriend get ready to move in with them, and his crazy Aunt Liney is there to keep an eye on him. Miserable, he touches a carving his mother made of the house from wood from the family tree years ago and finds himself transported to a parallel universe where a girl, Naia, is living his life–only with their mother still alive.
This may be one of those YA books that only someone in the midst of teen angst can truly appreciate, or perhaps an adult with a strong fear of losing their mother.
Alaric is an angsty teen, perhaps with good reason, but he’s annoying nonetheless. Thankfully, his Aunt Liney is present, and she is a breath of fresh air. The long-suffering, quirky aunt who was almost aborted and does not exist in the alternate reality is clearly important, but we never find out why. Probably this is key later in the trilogy, but I doubt I’ll struggle through simply to find out just how she’s a key factor. I also must admit that I find the obvious pro-life slant in Aunt Liney’s storyline annoying.
Although Alaric’s motivation for coming to and continually returning to the Naia’s parallel universe is clear, her motivations are not. Her world seems quite ideal, and Alaric is an unwelcome intrusion into it. She does not seem to possess a naturally curious or quizzical nature. This leaves half of the plot, Naia’s part in it, unclear.
The parallel worlds are interesting, but not nearly as creative as, say, Stephen King’s. The differences are all incredibly minor, based off of decisions and chances playing out in two different scenarios. A baby could be a boy or a girl. A mother could live or die. A sister could be aborted or kept. Yet how Lawrence draws the line on what counts as a chance or a decision is very unclear. Is every single choice and instance a decision? That would make the universes go on forever, which just seems highly illogical and improbable. I simply could not sustain my disbelief quite enough to get into it.
All of that said, I could see a teenager enjoying this story. Particularly one upset with his parents or wishing his life was minutely different in some way. I thus recommend it to a teen into fantasy and the concept of parallel universes.
3 out of 5 stars