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The Other Mother    by Gwendolen Gross order for
Other Mother
by Gwendolen Gross
Order:  USA  Can
Shaye Areheart, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

Simultaneously suspenseful and thought provoking, The Other Mother is told from alternating viewpoints. According to Thea, one of the two narrators in this novel, there are two kinds of mothers: those who work, and those who love their children enough to stay home and raise them. But Gross shows it's not as simple as all that.

Thea and Amanda are next-door-neighbors. Thea is the consummate mother - she has devoted herself to her children and has not worked outside the home, silently judging those who do. Amanda is a brand new mother but never feels like she has it all together: she had an uncomfortable pregnancy, she worries constantly about her baby, and she worries constantly about her job. After her baby is born, she returns to her job as a book editor in New York, but not without internal conflict.

Each mother has something the other covets, or thinks they do. When Amanda needs a nanny in a hurry, Thea volunteers for the job. While she becomes attached to the baby, misunderstandings and miscommunication between the two women grow into an undercurrent of hostility. Eventually, Amanda and her husband are forced to move in with Thea's family temporarily, culminating in more mistrust between the two families. Suspicions rise when dead animals begin appearing on Thea's doorstep, which takes the book down a different, darker path.

The book is absorbing and touches skillfully on the guilt of motherhood and the inevitable losses as your children grow away from you and stop needing you so much. In Gross's characters, no one is who they appear to be on the surface. She shows how easy it is to misread people, to judge them harshly and unfairly, to claim you know their true feelings and intentions, and how little we really know about what is going on in another's life.

The author has a way of making you clearly see both viewpoints, and I found myself siding with the narrator of the chapter I was reading, only to switch camps when I switched narrators. I found the book to be realistic, if not slightly disturbing. Ultimately, the novel is about the often tireless attempt to find a balance between motherhood and self.

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