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  • Addison Rizer

Motherthing and Voice

Book Cover of Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth
Book Cover of Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth

I’m reading Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth again and I think one reason it works so well despite some of the bonkers aspects (which I love) is the absolute strength of voice the main character has. It’s particularly noticeable in the metaphors and similes she uses. It’s such a small thing, but I've realized how much it adds to showing who a character is.

Motherthing is about Abby, happily married to, in her eyes, the most perfect man in the world. After a troubled and troubling childhood, she found her person with her old-fashioned cookbook and hopes of a soon-to-be-kid in tow. During the day she works at a senior living home, doting on the elderly there, especially one of the residents whom she calls her "baby." When her husband's mother dies, a woman who has never accepted Abby or her kindness no matter how Abby begs, he's thrown into a depression he describes as being in a "jar." She's desperate to keep him, her almost-but-not-quite-real baby, and her "baby" within her grasp, no matter the cost.

Okay, summary established, let's talk metaphor. Abby is a wife more than she is anything. You can see this in the very first scene at the hospital when she compares an elderly woman's clouded eye to an engagement ring. She’s desperate for a child and in the same scene she compares a hot tub to a womb. She’s obsessed with an old cookbook and the way food solves everything, so she says money from an ATM was “fresh and hot” from an oven. These things aren’t overt. She doesn’t say “Hello, my name is Abby and I’m in love with my husband and want a child and here’s an old cookbook I love.” But, without even having turned fifteen pages, you get all of these clues of who she is because of how she sees the world.

The same character who compares a freshly-dug gravesite to graham cracker crumble isn’t the same one that would describe it as an Earthly wound. One might walk through clouds, but someone else might drown in them. A character who grew up growing tomatoes wouldn’t have the same reference points to someone who grew up in a penthouse with an elevator for a front door. The former likely wouldn’t compare a buttoned-up passerby to a doorman, the latter a sign of the seasons to planting season.

Motherthing is so strong in building a unique worldview for Abbey because of these little hints. Because they're not really so little at all. They're the eyes we look through, judge her action through, and despite her rather irrational actions throughout the story I understood exactly why she did them. Because I was in her world where she sees remote-controlled toys and sensory boards and fingernail clippings in everything because that's who she is. Not chosen at random, not cliches, no it's all filtered through her. It's who she is. Which is what makes the book, the writing, so great.


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