Review: Motherless Child
I was flipping through the TV channels recently and saw that “Fried Green Tomatoes” was playing. I’d never seen the show before (travesty, I know, I plan to rectify that soon) so I stayed and watched for a while. I was coming in about midway through the show and there was a scene where two young women were sitting in an otherwise empty restaurant talking about some of the problems in their lives. In a very few minutes, I felt like I knew these two women and where they had come from. What and who they were, at their core. It was brilliant and seemingly effortless. It was in the same incredibly simple and beautifully elegant way that the story in this novel began with two young women talking to one another in a bar about the pieces of their lives, and I knew at once that I was going to enjoy this book.
MOTHERLESS CHILD (Amazon) is a fairly short novel about a couple girls that get “changed” by a vampire. Well, they are bitten by a vampire, and then their change slowly takes place over the course of the book. Nothing new in the idea department, granted, but this story, from its very beginning, is a character story, and in that respect, the author nailed this one out of the park.
Natalie and Sophie are friends and young, single mothers that are each trying to raise a toddler. Natalie, the main POV, works at the local Waffle House, lives in a trailer park with her mother, and trying her very best to get along with what she has. Sophie, although a bit more playful, is much the same. One night, they decide to hit a popular roadside bar, and late into the night, a well-known but highly mysterious musician comes into the bar to perform. Immediately the girls are attracted to the stranger known only as “The Whistler”, but soon after he begins to entertain the crowd, the night is gone and the two girls wake up in Sophie’s car with shredded clothes, covered in dried blood, the night a blur. They don’t remember much about what happened, but Natalie instantly knows one thing: she has to leave town, and it has to be now.
What follows is the story of these two girls as they drive around the countryside, slowly finding out that what they are now, and what they can do completely defies all logic. They don’t know what’s happening–obviously we do–and we get to watch as these two strong-willed young women take a stroll down a very dark road indeed. It’s a road that twists and turns and comes back upon itself, eventually coming full circle in an unexpected and very interesting way.
There were several things that I absolutely loved about this book. I’ve already mentioned the first: the seemingly effortless way that the author unfolds the lives and character of these two girls. The portrait he describes is intimate and genuine in a way that so few authors get right. The second was the slow, inexorable transformation that is played out. Sophie gives in slightly more willingly than does Natalie. Natalie seems to be more aware of what is going on, and is perhaps a bit more grown-up in a sense, as she sees the changes coming over her friend and those developing within herself, and does her best to resist them. The third thing I loved was that the story began small, and it ended small. It stayed, for the most part, contained in the small town region of the American South, and because of that, the story felt all the more personal and pointed. Really brilliantly done.
My one big hangup, and it was one that nearly killed the thing for me, was a lack of understanding of character motivation for the first half of the book. I mean, I understood why Natalie wanted to get away from her child and the people that she loved, but I don’t remember reading anything about it from her perspective. Some of the story is told from the POV of the Whistler, and even there all we get for the first half of the book is that he thinks Natalie is “his destiny”–whatever that means. Because of that lack of understanding the motivation behind the girls’ actions, the first half of the book felt like they were driving around for the heck of it, wasting time. The first changes that happen are pretty small and seem benign. It’s not until about midway through the book that things really shift and take off; finally at this point we start to get motivations and the book’s pace picks up and races off toward the end.
With the simple addition of some character motivation, this book would have been great. There’s also the fact that at the end, I felt like I should have been dissatisfied with the resolution, but I found that I wasn’t and can’t seem to understand why that is. It really was a fun read. I’d totally pick up another book by this guy.
A book about trying to avoid the inevitable and the lengths to which human will can take us. Pick this one up, if you can. A read well worth your time.
- Recommended Age: 17+
- Language: A fair bit, quite strong
- Violence: Really quite gory in parts. Vampire novel, yeah?
- Sex: Although most scenes are glossed over or treated lightly, there's numerous references and conversation about sexual topics