The Push by Ashley Audrain (2021)

I don’t usually buy books that have just been published without reading at least one review but in this case, I had to. In December, I saw The Push announced as one of the most promising debuts of the upcoming year. The premise sounded compelling and I was in the mood to read a suspenseful psychological thriller, so I got it when I saw it at the book shop. It’s one of those books that is massively hyped. Rights have already been sold to 34 different countries.

The Push is told by Blythe who addresses her husband, telling him, her side of the story. It starts with Blythe outside of his house, where he lives with their daughter, his new wife and young son. The story then goes back to the beginning, tells us how they met, the marriage, and Blythe’s first pregnancy with their daughter Violet. From the beginning Blythe is scared to be a bad mother as her own mother who’d been abused by her dysfunctional mother, abandoned her at an early age. Over the course of the book, we will get to know both stories.

What follows isn’t always easy to read. Blythe does things that are appalling but then again, Violet is a more than difficult child and would test the patience of many mothers.

It’s not easy to write much more as this book could easily be spoilt. I found it immensely readable, could hardly put it down. I didn’t think that the main theme – bad mothering will be passed on from one generation to the next – is that well executed but it’s an interesting idea. One that book clubs will love to discuss. What I loved was the suspense and finding out whether Blythe was an unreliable narrator. Were the things she said about Violet true? Was Violet really evil or was everything Blythe said just an invention to cover up her own bad mothering? But then again, is Blythe really a bad mother because she will have a second child,Sam, and with that child everything is so simple. Does she simply not love them the same?

While Blythe was scared to be a bad mother to Violet, in Sam’s case, she’s scared for her child. She’s turned into an overanxious mother. Maybe with good reason?

This is a chilling read. Thought-provoking, suspenseful, and creepy (not in a supernatural way). And, I would say, it does deserve the hype. It has been compared to We Need to Talk About Kevin but for me, they aren’t the same genre. I read this like a psychological thriller, which Lionel Shriver’s book is not. What they have in common, is that they both focus on the themes of nature versus nurture and the challenges of motherhood. But story, mood, style and pace are very different.

The Push is a compelling page turner, with short, bite-sized chapters, that will make you want gulp it down in one sitting. It’s also a perfect Book Club choice.

25 thoughts on “The Push by Ashley Audrain (2021)

    • It’s a perfect book club choice. She doesn’t really give an answer – how could she – but she’s leaning heavily towards one. It is fascinating and it’s also interesting how she reverses it a few times. It’s not literary fiction but thought provoking and highly readable.

      • Sometimes a book comes along that looks at a contemporary issue and makes us view both sides in that way in a compelling manner. I’m curious to find out from the inside and if it’s a bit more fast paced than the usual read, that’s just fine too.

        • It also explores the question whether there are women who shouldn’t become mothers as it’s not for them at all. I’ve heard a few women say that they just had kids because it was expected of them but it didn’t give them joy. It’s engaging and very fast paced.

          • Interesting and controversial, sounds excellent! Being adopted, I’ve often had many thoughts about mother’s, but few I would ever share, so always interested in the arguments, having had three very different experiences of mothering. I admire the courage of any writer willing to take on and navigate the subject!

            • It’s interesting to me too. I had a mother who said she thought she would have been better of not being a mother and gave away a child before keeping me. She did also mostly not grow up with her mother. I decided as a kid that I wouldn’t want to pass anything on so would never have kids of my own. I takes a lot of courage to address this. Just before reading The Push I read Night Waking that covers similar territory but very different stylewise.

              • It’s challenging when one grows up with that being the norm. My mother was fiercely protective, not at all maternal, then wavering between vulnerable and unkind when I sought contact with my biological family.

                When I had children myself, I was shocked by the depth of a different kind of mutual love that could exist between us, that experience, just magic.

  1. Looks very fascinating, Caroline! The kid being evil makes me think of the Ray Bradbury story ‘The Small Assassin’. The kid is actually evil in that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 😊

  2. Understandable why you found this chilling and a very interesting subject to tackle. I do love a potentially unreliable narrator and Blythe sounds a perfect candidate for it. It’s wonderful that you’ve found another book this year that you’ve really enjoyed reading!

    • Thanks, Julé. A promising start to the reading year. Already the third even as I also read Sarah Moss‘ Night Waking. I can only imagine how mothers will feel about this if it even affected me who never wanted kids.

  3. I took chances on debut novels this year and they were excellent. You would like White Ivy btw (one of the debut novels). I think I know this author’s name from somewhere ….

  4. It’s always a risk with new books like this, especially if they’re debuts. I’m so glad you found it compelling after some of the disappoints from last year. I can see why it would be suitable for book groups with all the questions it raises about motherhood…

    • Thank you, Jacqui. Yes, It is risky. But so nice when you’re among the first to discover something. It raises so many questions. I’m sure book clubs will quickly jump on the occasion.

  5. Pingback: Winding Up the Week #155 – Book Jotter

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