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Good intentions?

Cover of That Kind of Mother
A review of That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam

Reader reviews on Goodreads for this title seem to be either in the "love it or hate it" category - not many in between. I fell on the love it side of things, but can definitely understand why some might not agree. The protagonist, Rebecca Stone, in whose head we spend the majority of time, is not exactly likable. She's not really unlikable either, at least to my mind. She's an educated white woman in 1980s Washington DC with a pretty narrow range of experiences and has no realization of just how limited her worldview is.

As the novel opens Rebecca is in the active stages of giving birth. Once she has her son Jacob, she's panicked and scared as many new mothers are and she latches onto Priscilla Johnson. Priscilla is the lactation coach who helps her learn to breastfeed for the first time and when Rebecca learns her previous job was as a nanny, she quickly pressures Priscilla into coming to work for the Stone family as a nanny. But where Rebecca sees their relationship as one of friends - one of whom happens to work for the other - it's not as clear that Priscilla, a black woman who has had a tougher life, feels the same way. Uneven relationship aside, when Priscilla dies in childbirth Rebecca offers to take baby Andrew into her own home and family.

This novel is an exploration of intentions - and the unintended impact that comes with acting on them - more then anything else. Rebecca means well, or convinces herself she does, but her little bubble of comfort and privilege makes her myopic in things large and small. Her missteps and misinterpretations are drawn in spare prose, but the impact is deep and lasting, both on the people in her life and the reader.

October 10, 2018