1 October 2022

The Push by Ashley Audrain

This was an unexpected read for me this year, and even more unexpectedly, it turned out to be one of my favourites! A friend of Meg's recommended it to her and I think she only got about ~20 pages into it before she knew she couldn't go on a second more. This is not the book you want to read with a 1.5 year old and another baby on the way. She mailed me the book and I started reading it soon after. 

Ashley Audrain is a Canadian author from Newmarket, Ontario (a fact I learned from Ben's aunt who messaged me when she saw I was reading it) - and The Push is her first book. I was hesitant to read it at first because it didn't seem like my thing. I don't usually gravitate to thrillers and this seemed like it kind of fit that mold. I've never been motivated by heavy plot or "whodunits," but The Push extends way beyond this. It is definitely a compulsive page-turner, but it also has a lot to say about motherhood, and grief and loss. 

The main character is a young woman named Blythe who wants to be a writer. She soon meets someone, gets married, and has her first child - a little girl named Violet. These early sections of the book were really interesting to me. Blythe does not feel the way she expected to after becoming a mother and this adds a lot of tension to her marriage. She feels extremely guilty about these feelings, but also resents them.

My chest began to tighten - that feeling again, the creep of anxiety. It was back in an instant, like she'd snapped her fingers to wake me up from her spell. That tone used to haunt me. I can't go there again with you, I thought, my mouth dry."

I thought Audrain wrote these sections with a lot of care and compassion. It would be easy to make Blythe seem selfish or monstrous, but Audrain never gives into that cheap caricature. 

The "page-turner" nature of this book comes from learning early on that Blythe eventually has a second child (a little boy named Sam) but that something tragic happens to him. These are some of the most depressing sections, and I can image that if you were a mom (especially a new mom) you would want to avoid reading this at all costs. I honestly found myself starting to feel sort of depressed reading it too. 

I remember so little else about how he came into this world. I remember everything about how he left it."

The book becomes creepier and creepier as you start to learn more about Violet and whether or not she was involved in Sam's death. Every night I would read a few chapters and then text Meg updates. 

But what I loved most about this book was how the tragedy of Sam's death and Violet's behaviour impacted Blythe's relationship to her husband. There is a scene shortly after the death of Sam where a doctor warns the couple to "be strong together" and how a lot of relationships don't survive the loss of a child. Her husband replies kind of flippantly "what kind of a thing is that to say to us? We have enough to worry about." 

But in the coming months and years their marriage completely breaks apart. This was the stuff that really killed me. Blythe's husband starts having an affair and eventually marries the woman. All of this is truly like kicking a horse when it's down x 10000. It made me feel physically ill.

I wondered if the pain of spending my days imagining you fucking another woman would mean I'd start to miss Sam less. Surely there is a limit to how much sadness one person can hold."

I would like to recommend this book to anyone, but I think you have to be in a certain headspace to handle it. Some people like to learn in to the unthinkable, others like to avoid at any cost. If you are new to motherhood, this probably shouldn't be your number one go-to. But if you are soulless like me, then have at it. 

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