Just What Kind of Mother Are You?
Since Jane Austen, novelists have been ripping apart the staid and composed exteriors of British-born characters, showing us the rips and tears behind the fancy accents and conservative behaviors. Paula Daly chose to follow in the footsteps of her Anglo-Saxon ancestors with her debut novel, JUST WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU? As she tries to answer the title query from several different perspectives, Daly unwinds a multi-leveled thriller/chick lit story that will keep you riveted from beginning to end.
Any parent can relate to the central characters and their plight. One mom, Lisa, a harried working woman with a fast-paced family life to manage, does not realize that, on a particular school night, her daughter’s best friend was supposed to sleep over. The friend never appears, and no one realizes this until she doesn’t show up at school the next day. Add to that distress the fact that the girl is the daughter of Lisa’s own best friend, Kate, the perfected British stay-at-home mom with the hair in its place and the best wardrobe, even in a struggling community like their Lake District home. Lisa blames herself, Kate cries so hard she barely makes a sound, and a Detective Constable, Joanne, braces herself for what becomes a more tawdry and twisting look at the inner lives of seemingly normal families as the case wears on.
"JUST WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU? is a thriller that contemporary audiences, especially overworked moms, will find most compelling."
To impact the literary proceedings further, every few chapters there is a first-person narrative from what a reader would consider to be the assailant or kidnapper of the young girl, giving us a sickening glimpse into the world behind his stained curtain of a life. JUST WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU? lets no one off the hook; there is nothing but flawed souls shining in this tome, and, as the plot thickens, readers will find themselves drawn into something that, in less capable hands, could have ended up a Maury Povich special. But Daly not only exposes us to Lisa’s brain and the mysterious thoughts of the possible criminal but also throws in a third-person narrative following the Constable as she tries to unravel the many threads of the situation. The reader is engaged and never bored, since the perspectives change and so does the kind of information made available from each of those characters; it’s a very shrewd way to keep the novel from falling into any of the clichés of a particular genre. This mash-up brings a conflicted but compelling energy to the proceedings.
Daly isn’t a fancy writer; she is not poetic and isn’t trying to win awards here. She is concerned with finding the best way to tell the story of a horror show that haunts parents all over the world. A lost child, complicated details, the possibility of their lives all being changed forever by one person’s bold and twisted moves --- Daly understands the kinds of things that keep moms and dads up late at night. She presses on every last nerve looking for the most vulnerable place to slam the reader, giving them more and more reasons to turn those pages and find out if everything is going to end up okay or not.
The book also addresses, in a most interesting way, the kinds of conversations that women are having all over the world. Forget about LEAN IN --- this is ALL IN, women torn to the very edge of their consciousness by the unbearable multi-tasking demanded of them at every turn. It’s a harrowing tale of how one moment lost in a day filled with half-completed chores and responsibilities can bring an entire community to the precipice that is safety and security in the real world.
If you were lucky enough to watch the crime drama “Broadchurch” this summer on BBC America, you may feel like you are stepping into a similarly middle-class British neighborhood. As in that remarkable miniseries, the less histrionic proceedings that surround serious incidents and investigations give an eeriness to the tale that you wouldn’t necessarily find from a louder, more bombastic U.S. storytelling style. It makes for the kind of story that stays with you, gives you the creeps, and makes you check on the kids twice before you go to bed, where you won’t be able to sleep wondering about the under-layers of your own community.
JUST WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU? is a thriller that contemporary audiences, especially overworked moms, will find most compelling.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on November 15, 2013