The Mothers: Week 4 P. 207-278

Well we have finished our second novel (a bit late but no one's grading) and if you don't like open endings then you might not be too happy. Luckily, I love open endings!

We pick up with Luke and Nadia's affair. Bennett sews in this part of the narrative seamlessly alongside details of Nadia and Aubrey's friendship and Luke and Aubrey's marriage. When the affair began, it was unclear whether Nadia truly loved Luke, or if she was just seeking comfort. It's when the affair ends that Nadia limits it down to "just fucking around" (222). It's safe to say that she isn't telling he whole truth, but I think it's important to note that the affair cuts off right when she is asked to further betray Aubrey by dating Luke.

As I sit here, trying to think of a way to describe how the novel ends, how the characters of left off, all I can think of is that they end up scattered. Aubrey discovers the affair, and the discovery acts as the final catalyst separating her from Nadia. Though later it is alluded to that they are able to make some repairs to their relationship, I think that the close friendship they developed the first summer they met is over. She reunites with Miller, and though the relationship never becomes truly intimate, I think that the ending leaves us open to the idea that they become closer after the story ends. Aubrey doesn't leave Luke before the end of the novel, but I like to think that she does eventually, and I think Bennett backs that up with the following excerpt:

"Her calmness scared him. he would understand if she had screamed and yelled or cried and cursed. he expected her to, but she was eerily calm and that was how he knew she would leave him. maybe not right away but someday, he would return home and find her shelf cleared in the bathroom, her half of the closet empty," (242-3).

Nadia's future is left very open and I think that that's awesome. Throughout the novel, Bennett has referred to black girls as oftentimes very closed in. In fact, Nadia's entire community is very small and closed in. Even The Mothers have encouraged Nadia to get married and settle down to live out the rest of her life in Oceanside, an idea that she does contemplate at one point. It is nice to see that Nadia is left at the end of the novel with the world at her feet. What will she do? Does she seek out her grandmother in an attempt to further find her mother? Does she become a big town lawyer? A world traveler? We know that she does return to Oceanside one final time, whether it's just for a visit or whether she is taking her father to live with her in New York is left unclear, and this is when we are given the hint that her and Aubrey were able to repair their relationship, at least minimally.

One of the most shocking discoveries at the end of the novel is the closing of Upper Room. Throughout the novel, we have been hearing the story told from the point of view of the Mothers, and this culminates fully at the end of the book. We are slowly shown the hints that the women picked up to finally piece together what has happened, but we are aware that the Mother's final view of the events of the novel is slightly skewed. Whereas we, the readers, know that it was Nadia who asked for the abortion, by the end of the novel the community of Oceanside and Upper Room paints Pastor Sheppard as the bad guy. The congregation leaves in droves after an article is released accusing Sheppard of forcing the abortion upon Nadia in order to save his own ministry. This serves as the final catalyst that scatters the cast of characters we have come to know, and the Mothers, our flawed and oftentimes judgemental but nevertheless entertaining narrators, without a church home.

Discussion Questions

  1. The novel ends with the following quote, how did these lines affect you? What meaning or importance do you find in them? "We see the span of [Nadia's] life unspooling in colorful threads and we chase it, wrapping it around our hands as more tumbles out. She's her mother's age now. Double her age. Our age. You're our mother. We're climbing inside of you," (275).
  2. When a white reporter comes to Upper Room to write up the story surrounding the abortion, the Mothers tell us "We wanted to chase him off those steps with a broom. Get! Get out our house! Who was he to poke around, turning up our rugs? Who was he to tell our stories? But he wrote it up anyway," (273). We have spent a lot of this book discussing Black writers individuals and their strides to find a space for themselves in which to tell their own stories without intrusion from outsiders. How do you think this scene relates to that theme of Black voices being silenced or taken over by Anglo sources?
  3. At the end of the novel, we are truly forced to think up endings for each of the characters. Out of curiosity, I would like to hear where you imagined everyone turning up.
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Jessi Young

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