"Little Lovely Things" by Maureen Joyce Connolly
There are lots of things you are supposed to do to be a GOOD MOTHER®.
Fuss and coo over your new baby, singing her songs and reading her books long before she is able to understand any of what you are doing or saying.
Maintain a baby book, documenting every lost tooth, first gibberish attempt at a word, and every year…month…even week...anniversary of birth.
Plan Pinterest perfect birthday parties with elaborate cupcake-cakes that interconnect to form a dinosaur or princess or the logo from your 3-year-old’s favorite reality TV program.
Volunteer to coordinate class parties, outdoing all of the other moms because, it doesn’t matter what the fuck anyone says, this shit is totally a competition.
But what you are absolutely, under no circumstances, ever supposed to do is leave your young kids, one and four, sitting in a car, left running to stave off the heat, in a shitty neighborhood, in Chicago.
No matter how sick you are.
No matter how much of an emergency you find yourself in.
No matter what.
Unfortunately for Claire, she shattered that cardinal rule. And it changed everything.
A busy medical student, Claire might not be a typical mother to her daughters, Lily and Andrea, but she always considered herself a good one.
But, when you’re balancing it all precariously, eventually everything will come tumbling down.
That’s what happens to Claire when, while racing down the highway in an attempt to get her daughters off to daycare and herself off to her med school program, she suddenly falls incredibly ill.
Because it’s the early 90s and cell phones aren’t… you know… a thing… she has basically no choice but to stop at a gas station and race into the bathroom, leaving the door propped to ensure that she can keep her daughters in sight.
Almost as soon as she hits the stale air of the oft-ignored-by-janitorial-staff gas station bathroom, her condition worsens. She becomes disoriented and begins to drift unconscious. Even as she does, though, her mother’s instinct – that constant worry that has chewed at her stomach since the birth of her first child and has somehow taken even bigger nibbles since the welcoming of her second – remains tuned-in to reality enough to notice something: the bathroom door fall closed.
In the worst kind of fate Moira, a gypsy traveler who has been banished from her family and is now traveling with only her lover, Eamon, at her side, happens to be on the same block, approaching the same gas station, just as Claire’s children slip out of her sight.
Having ended two pregnancies of her own in miscarriage, Moira wants one thing – a child.
Or, two, would be even better.
So, when she and Eamon spot a car, idling, with two tots inside – all but gift-wrapped and ready for the snatching – the decision is easy.
Vanish into the bustling streets of Chicago.
Make those little girls your little girls.
And that’s just what she does, setting off a chain reaction that reverberates, impacting not just these two women and these two daughters, but instead reaching far beyond and well into the future.
Obviously, the premise of this book is naturally engaging — two beautiful little girls ripped from the loving arms of their mother, thrust into peril by these travelers who have no business caring for a hamster, let alone children — but, as engaging as it was, the premise isn’t really what made this book special.
No, the magic of this novel was the way in which the story was told.
Oddly, though decidedly not a horror novel, this book felt very Stephen-King-esque to me.
Like King, Connolly built a rich, multicultural world.
She relied on what could be seen as coincidence but, really, was fate, to drive her story, bring her characters together, allow for the conclusion she reached.
As with so many of King’s books, I think the degree to which you enjoy this novel will depend on the answer to one question:
How much do you believe – can you believe – in fate?
Are you too mired in reality to accept the possibility that something…mystical… could happen?
While I have never considered myself one to put much stock in fate or mysticism or religion, even, as I read this novel, I did believe. Quite contrary to my normal tendencies, I let my logic give way to a belief in a higher force.
Why did I do this?
How did I put the logic that usually governs my decision making aside and just… believe?
I don’t know.
But I’m glad I did.
Because it allowed me to absolutely dissolve into this debut novel.
While I was, admittedly, committed to this novel almost from chapter one, it certainly wasn’t an easy read.
In fact, it was… painful.
Incredibly fucking difficult.
While I think this novel would be an emotionally difficult read for anyone… like… with a soul, I think it will prove particularly difficult for mothers.
Ultimately, regardless of whether I check all of the increasingly profuse rubric boxes necessary to fall into “good mom” category, I am a mom.
And, like most moms, I love my two-year-old and nine-year-old beyond reason.
Beyond my ability to articulate in words.
And I honestly don’t know how I would go on if anything ever happened to either of them. So, when I progressed through this book and it became increasingly clear that a “happily ever after” was unlikely, I felt real, palpable, fucking painful, emotion.
I rode this thorny wave of emotion through to the end of the novel.
Had this novel been just that — just this emotion-inducing experience that spoke to what it means to be a mother, to be a parent – I would have been satisfied.
But, to my delight, it went beyond that, imparting a lingering message.
As I approached the end of this novel, having traveled with Claire through the most painful of journeys, I realized something. I realized that I, like most people I would assume, have been confusing good with great, effective with exceptional.
Expectations, it would seem, for men…and women…and mothers… have gotten way out of whack.
And, as is beautifully illustrated for Claire by a doctor whom she grows to trust, few people are…complete. We, all of us, have our weaknesses and our deficits and our issues.
This was, in my opinion, the big takeaway from this book.
It was the realization that we are all doing pretty fucking well, in our own way, and that expectations – inflated or otherwise – only serve to make us feel less capable.
This isn’t to say that I am going to take a jaunt into a gas station bathroom in Chicago’s shitty side, leaving my tots in the car as I do, any time soon.
But it is to say that it isn’t about blame. And it isn’t about living up to unrealistic, almost unreachable, expectations.
Rich and deep and moving, with characters you can’t help but root for and pain that you can’t resist feeling deep in your bones, this novel is an inarguable 5 out of 5 cocktails.
As much as I loved this book, it caused me pain. Physical pain. Mental pain. A profound and lingering disquietude that, even now that I’ve finished, has yet to dissipate. Have you ever read a book like that? Tell me about books you’ve read that have left you feeling…all the feelings… in the comments, below.
And on to the next. Check out which book I decide to devour next, here.