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All My Mother's Lovers


All My Mother's Lovers

Already being touted as one of the best books of 2020, Ilana Masad’s ALL MY MOTHER’S LOVERS is a generous and sharply observed chronicle of grief, sexuality and identity. With the pacing of a thriller and the heart of a romance, it more than lives up to its hype.

Twenty-seven-year-old Maggie Krause is many things: a proud lesbian, a good friend to polyamorous women and married mothers alike, and a competent insurance salesperson. But through it all, she has always struggled with intimacy --- perhaps modeling her own relationships after the one she shares with her mother, Iris. More alike than either would care to admit, they always have held one another at bay. Maggie has long felt abandoned by her mother’s frequent business trips and inability to stay housebound for long, and Iris, despite her support of the LGBT community, has never quite accepted Maggie’s sexuality. For years it was her father, Peter, who Maggie introduced to girlfriends and went on trips with, while Iris remained just out of reach, always more comfortable with Maggie’s brother, Ariel, a nerdy bookworm without Maggie’s penchant for rebellion.

"Witty, sharp and unexpectedly warm, ALL MY MOTHER’S LOVERS is a wonderfully modern chronicle of grief and identity.... This is a tautly plotted and incisive book that will upend your expectations and challenge your beliefs, but it is also a compelling and fast-paced thrill ride."

But everything is different now. Maggie is in a sort-of relationship with Lucia, a woman who has opened her eyes not only to the pervasiveness of racism and the need for activism, but also to intimacy. For the first time ever, Maggie is doing things like cooking meals with a partner and staying home smoking weed and making love rather than attending drag shows looking for a new hookup. But that’s not all: One night, while she is cozying up with Lucia, Maggie receives a call that her mother has died in a car crash, and that she must return to California to help her father and brother grieve and prepare for the funeral and life without Iris.

Tracking the course of the funeral and shiva, Masad introduces readers to Maggie and Iris in alternating chapters. As Maggie manages her anxiety over performing the basic tasks of grief and loss with weed and texts to Lucia, she uncovers her mother’s will --- and instructions to mail five mysterious sealed envelopes, each bearing the name of a different man. Faced with a disconsolate and withdrawn father, an angry and hurt brother, and a horde of sympathizers she barely knows, Maggie decides to take a little road trip and deliver the envelopes herself. It is not long before it becomes clear that Iris was not the happily married woman who Maggie always believed she was --- but she was not exactly a chronic cheater, either.

Capturing the full breadth and journey of each relationship in powerful, vivid snapshots, Masad lays bare the fullness of human sexuality and love. Readers already will know a little of what to expect with this book because of the title, and so Masad flips the script, turning the big reveal not into a question of whether or not Iris was faithful, but what her infidelities really meant and how they hurt or preserved her relationship with her family. While you may cringe at the phrase “mother’s lovers” or gasp at the idea of a woman living with so much infidelity, Masad manages to write Iris with warmth and sympathy, reminding readers that all women --- yes, even mothers --- are complex, layered and sexual beings, regardless of what society may tell you.

At the same time, ALL MY MOTHER’S LOVERS is an astute and sharply millennial unpacking of anxiety and intimacy. As much as the book is about Iris, it is equally focused on Maggie and her reckoning with her mother’s life and how it has shaped her own. While she is battling her own tremendous anxiety, she also must deal with major decisions that would send anyone reeling: Should she tell her father and brother what she has learned? Should she lean on Lucia, or would that be asking for too much too soon? Maggie’s interactions with Lucia are a quiet but brilliant highlight of the book; as frequently as she thinks of Lucia, she also finds herself held back by her own insecurities and vulnerability. Too often she sits in her car with her finger hovering over the “like” button as she looks at Lucia’s posts, wondering if she can actually “like” it or if that will seem creepy.

With deftness and subtlety, Masad has captured the full picture of being a millennial and lives that are both too public and too necessarily private. And then, at the height of the novel, we get to watch as Maggie grows and matures into someone who not only can love her mother as a parent, but can appreciate and understand her as a person.

Witty, sharp and unexpectedly warm, ALL MY MOTHER’S LOVERS is a wonderfully modern chronicle of grief and identity. Masad braids together the strands of Iris’ life with care and compassion, painting a fabulous portrait of a complicated woman. This is a tautly plotted and incisive book that will upend your expectations and challenge your beliefs, but it is also a compelling and fast-paced thrill ride. Without holding your hand or preaching to you, Masad manages to make you think differently about everyone in your life, and the ways that you express and share your love with them.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on June 12, 2020

All My Mother's Lovers
by Ilana Masad

  • Publication Date: May 25, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton
  • ISBN-10: 1524745987
  • ISBN-13: 9781524745981