A “mommy’s-night-out” goes awry in Aimee Molloy’s domestic thriller “The Perfect Mother”.
A group of New York City mothers brought together by their similar birth dates decide to have a night out to boost morale about their altered bodies and unpredictable sleep schedules. Even secretive single mom Winnie agrees to join, leaving her son at home with a babysitter. Although things start out well, by the end of the night Winnie’s son is missing, and because of the drunken haze of the night, clues are few and far between.
For a book marketed as a thriller, The Perfect Mother moves quite slowly, stagnating over prolonged marital arguments and the lives of fringe characters rather than engaging the reader in the hunt for a missing child. While Molloy is undoubtedly a talented writer, The Perfect Mother is a bit of a slog, and, once said slog is complete, the ending leaves something to be desired.
Molloy dedicates a fair amount of time to describing the puckered skin of post-pregnancy stomachs and the politics of returning to work post-childbirth. In tangents that stray off from the purpose of the novel – which is to find a kidnapped kid – she explores what it means to be a new mother. It’s fair to delve into the complexities of adapting to life with a baby, but the two parts of The Perfect Mother – the personal trials of the characters and the overall mystery driving the story – never really mesh. The book reads as more of a critique on female relationships and duties than a thrilling mystery.
A mom’s night out gone wrong.
In an ensemble-style novel, where the plot revolves around several peoples’ experiences, pasts, and decisions, each person’s story must be compelling, but also fit neatly into the overall plot. Loose ends need to be tied up and a single character’s choices and behaviours must make sense in the grand scheme of the book. It’s a big task to write from the perspective of multiple characters, and Molloy seems to get lost in the midst of all her characters problems and insecurities. The overarching narrative – in this case the search for Winnie’s son – isn’t strong enough to keep the characters tied together.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about The Perfect Mother is the forced relationships between the characters. The group of new moms seem to have nothing but judgement and disdain for one another. Even as they cope with the disappearance of Winnie’s son they still find time to disparage one another for drinking, returning to work, and having the audacity to have a baby without a husband. They ignore troubling signs of lawbreaking and mental illness in one another, and their supposedly deep bond by the end of the book feels false and forced.
If you’re searching for a fast-paced, exciting thriller, The Perfect Mother may not be the ideal book for you. While it does offer some interesting and critical insight into the realities of motherhood and femininity, it doesn’t deliver the excitement and mystery it promises.