“This excellent psychological domestic thriller is full of tension. Blythe Connor knows bad, even evil, parenting runs in her family. Her own icy and unloving mother, Cecilia, abandoned her and was herself the daughter of an abusive, psychotic woman. This terrific debut novel begins with Blythe literally outside in the cold, sitting in her car watching her daughter Violet through the window of the family home. On the cusp of adolescence, Violet is celebrating Christmas with her father, stepmother and baby half-brother, the perfect festive scene of a traditionally happy family Christmas, while Blythe the outsider watches bleakly through falling snow.
“We go back into Blythe’s history. “The women in our family, we’re different,” she says as she recounts her beginnings as a mother. Her own maternal line is littered with trauma, neglect and abuse, yet Blythe (a wonderfully sardonic name) still falls in love and gets pregnant. But she can’t love her daughter, who is difficult, manipulative and eventually frightening. Then Blythe has another baby – and her anxiety turns to terror.
“They xxxx you up, / Your mum and dad,” wrote Philip Larkin, finishing his famous poem with the lines: “Man hands on misery to man. / It deepens like a coastal shelf. / Get out as early as you can, / And don’t have any kids yourself.”
Words lost on most of us, including Blythe who, despite her own deeply unhappy childhood, gets married and has a family. She’ll soon wonder if she’s made a terrible mistake. Her daughter is extremely affectionate towards her father, but profoundly unloving to Blythe. She never smiles, and Blythe anxiously worries if Violet is a “bad seed,” genetically programmed to be psychologically unstable, or if she’s just imagining things. Matters come to a terrible head when her second child, a smiley, happy boy, is born. To her relief Blythe loves him unconditionally, but tragedy ensues and the marriage is over. Is Blythe herself the damaged one, as her ex-husband believes, or is Violet a monster?
This is a very clever, beautifully written domestic thriller. Judy tells me every new mother has moments of unease when her child behaves appallingly, dark thoughts about the inherited character of her little darling. THE PUSH examines this perennial nature/nurture debate with a gripping, emotional tension worthy of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.