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Daphne Merkin

Book Review: Motherhood by Sheila Heti

A provocative work probes the new norms of femininity.

We live in fast and loose times, when everything from the relevance of gender to the possibility of truth itself is open to question and literary genres exist only to be subverted or fractured. Enter Sheila Heti, whose last novel, How Should a Person Be?, became a sensation in part because it moved deftly between so-called reality and its parsing, with transcribed conversations and emails and chunks of fiction dropped here and there. Similarly, Motherhood, billed as a novel, reads like the most compelling (and free-associative) of memoirs—or, more precisely, like an exemplar of "autofiction" (fictionalized autobiography), a form whose practitioners include Karl Ove Knausgaard and Ben Lerner.

Motherhood is a meditation on the imperatives and costs of becoming—or not becoming—a mother by a writer who, during the three years it takes her to complete this book, hears her biological clock begin to tick. The nameless 36-year-old narrator lives in Toronto with her partner, Miles, a criminal defense lawyer who's fathered a child with someone else and is not particularly interested in having another, although he's not opposed, either. His indecision leaves the narrator feeling all the more at sea: "The question of a child is a bug in the brain...that crawls across everything."

O Magazine | May 18, 2018


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