Skip to main content

The Push


The Push

It’s exciting to kick off 2021 with a book that I’ve been hearing so much about since the middle of last year. Film and TV rights to Ashley Audrain’s debut, THE PUSH, have already been snatched up, and after reading this tense, thought-provoking novel about motherhood, I am convinced it would make for an excellent movie or limited series.

Blythe’s relationship with her husband, Fox, starts out with all the promise and excitement of new love. Even though they come from drastically different backgrounds, they seem to be on a positive track together. He’s an architect, she’s a writer, and soon after their wedding, they’re making plans to start a family.

"THE PUSH is the kind of novel you might read in one sitting, but then you’ll want to spend the next week talking about it. It’s safe to say that it lives up to all the hype."

But in the back of her mind, Blythe is nervous about impending motherhood. She remembers all too well her own childhood growing up with a mother who was beautiful but distant, and who eventually withdrew from her life altogether. In turn, her mother was raised (if that’s the right word) by an equally distant, aloof and even emotionally abusive mother. Blythe remembers her mother, Cecilia, telling her, “One day you’ll understand...The women in this family...we’re different.” Blythe has always feared that she --- like the generations of women before her --- lacks a maternal instinct. Fox knows about Blythe’s family history and reassures her that things will be different this time.

When Blythe and Fox’s daughter, Violet, is born, Blythe’s worst fears seem to be coming true. She consistently feels rejected by her daughter, even as a baby and toddler, and has a nearly impossible time feeling anything like love or affection for the little girl. However, when Blythe has a second child --- a baby boy named Sam --- her experience couldn’t be more different. She feels an immediate connection with her son, almost enough to offset her ongoing concerns about Violet’s seeming lack of empathy. But when tragedy strikes, Blythe and everyone in her life are forced to reckon with what’s happened and wrestle with who’s responsible.

Audrain chooses to write from Blythe’s point of view, constructing a present-day narrative that is addressed to a second-person “you.” These contemporary portions of the novel are interspersed with moments from the past, both Blythe’s own personal history and that of Cecilia. Audrain doesn’t offer easy answers for why the women in Blythe’s family seem to suffer from and perpetuate a persistent empathy deficit. The book will encourage deep discussions about the legacy of neglect, as well as debate about whether maternal impulses are innate or learned. But it is also an interrogation of one troubled woman’s state of mind before, during and after a crisis, as well as a suspenseful account of a little girl who may or may not be a so-called bad seed.

THE PUSH is the kind of novel you might read in one sitting, but then you’ll want to spend the next week talking about it. It’s safe to say that it lives up to all the hype.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 8, 2021

The Push
by Ashley Audrain