Book: The Need
Author: Helen Phillips
Reviewed by: Amelia Valasek, Library Manager
Who should read this: If you want a weird book that has a foot in two different genres, but doesn’t really adhere to either. If you like sci-fi, and also if you like books about the struggles of motherhood and existential questions about family life.
Personal impression: The book started out strong – it was weird, but in a fun, trippy sci-fi kind of way. Then it just sort of disintegrated into a philosophical examination of motherhood. Since I am not a parent, I couldn’t really relate and just got tired of it after a while. I suppose it’s possible that someone who has been through the trials of raising young children might get more out of this one.
Review: Caution, this review contains some minor SPOILERS, but nothing you won’t find out after the first 50 pages of the book. So, here’s the what the book is actually about, which you won’t really be able to glean from the official description: A woman is confronted by a copy of herself from an alternate universe and this causes her to confront her conflicted feelings about motherhood and her own identity. Although the book did have some interesting science-fiction-adjacent plot points and a sort of simmering tension of alternate reality mind-bending going on in the background, it really isn’t a book about these things at all. For all the promise of a twisty, creepy thrill ride, this book is actually quite mundane. And I use the word “mundane” on purpose. The book isn’t boring, but it is surprisingly ordinary, all things considered. There is more text dedicated to breast-feeding and packing lunches and stressing about a four-year old’s birthday party than there is to anything else.
“The Need” referenced by the title is the all-consuming need that (some, all, most?) mothers feel for their children, and how that need creates a conflict of identity. I suppose for someone who is a new mother confronting the crisis of identity that comes from constantly sacrificing yourself, this book may actually be profound. For this reason, and because it was a fairly quick read, I will give the book the benefit of the doubt. Even though I personally found it wanting, I do think there is an audience out there who will truly appreciate this particular story.