Sunday, June 17, 2018

Godmother Night

Rachel Pollack
Completed 6/17/2018, Reviewed 6/17/2018
5 stars

This book is a tear-jerker.  I had tears streaming down my face at the end.  I had to walk around a bit to chill before writing this review.  It’s a modern-day fairy tale told in a somewhat naïve voice about the personification of death in the lives of a lesbian couple and their daughter.  Despite its simple language, the prose is wonderful and the plot is inventive.  It poses the question of what death would be like as a godmother.

The story begins with Jacqueline trying to find herself by figuring out what to call herself.  When she settles on Jaqe (pronounced “Jake”), positive things begin to happen to her, including finding a lover, Laurie.  They go through all the normal things to lovers go through when they first come together.  Then Jaqe decides she wants to have a baby.  Throughout their time together, a mysterious old woman called Mother Night weaves through their lives seemingly giving them what they most want.  Of course, there is a price which will be collected later.  Happiness now for heartbreak later.

The narration threw me off at first.  It’s told from third person omniscient, but in a fairy tale sort of way.  In other word, we always know what everyone is thinking.  But then it clicked and it felt akin to the style of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.  I think this book would work really well as an audio book.  I know that most books are audio books now, but it would be like being told a bedtime story, granted a rather spooky one. 

The characters are all wonderful: Jaqe, Laurie and their daughter Kate.  Jaqe is a young and naïve college student.  Laurie her lover, is a few years older and the more worldly president of the campus Lesbian Student Union.  When they meet, they fall immediately in love.  The time frame is earlier than now, so their relationship is difficult, especially because of their parents.  The first half of the book follows Jaqe and Laurie through their relationship and pregnancy.  The second half follows Kate as she grows from a colicky baby to a child to a tweener to an adult.  Kate lives with death her whole life, even becoming something of a death midwife, helping people cope with death and occasionally helping them avoid death if the circumstances are right.  I loved each of the characters as I got to know them and was devasted whenever tragedy struck their lives.  And being a book about the personification of death, it happened a lot.

Even Mother Night is wonderful.  I pictured her being like an older friend of mine who always wore interesting dresses and hats.  I can’t go into too much detail about her, though, because it would give away too much.

This book won the World Fantasy Award and was nominated for the Tiptree and Lambda Literary Awards.  I give it five stars because it made me cry and I had to ground myself back into reality when I was done reading it.  A friend of mine only gives five stars to books he can’t put down, which is rare for him.  I found this to be quite the page turner as well, forcing myself to breath at the end of each chapter.  I read this over a weekend, finding I just couldn’t put it down.  It’s one of the most exciting and occasionally exhilarating books I’ve read in a long time.

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