Mother May I: A Novel
“Thanks to Jackson’s deep roots in the South, uncanny empathy, and storytelling talent, book clubs will talk about Mother May I in glowing terms for a long time.”
Two types of readers will be drawn to Joshilyn Jackson’s Mother May I, a novel featuring a stolen child, clashes between different social classes, sexual harassment, and headline worthy past sins by rich and powerful men.
The first group includes lovers of complex tales written with swift pacing and tense narratives. While they’ll certainly enjoy most of the book, some will view it as a story that could have been told with about 50 fewer pages.
The second group includes those who appreciate denser domestic dramas that dwell on deeply rendered emotions, rich character backstories, and “ideas to talk about at book club.” Thanks to Jackson’s deep roots in the South, uncanny empathy, and storytelling talent, book clubs will talk about Mother May I in glowing terms for a long time.
The story’s main character, Bree Cabbat, was raised by a loving but struggling single mother. She shopped in thrift stores and had to work twice as hard as many teens and young women from better-off families to finish college and ease her way into the comforts of the upper middle class. Because of a few lucky breaks but more so because of her own gumption and integrity, she’s now married to a man from a wealthy family who seems to be completely devoted to her wellbeing.
That life is interrupted at the story’s beginning by a real-life daymare on the morning Bree awakens to see “a witch” peering into her bedroom window. She talks herself into believing it’s an illusion but soon learns it’s a real woman embarking on a murderous quest driven by events that took place long ago.
In the spirit of some of today’s best thrillers, those events lead Bree to question what she believes she knows about her husband, who comes from old southern money. Early on in the story his status at a pedigreed law firm enhances the fairy tale feel of Bree’s life with him. Yet as the drama intensifies she’s forced to confront the probability that his gilded credentials obscure his true nature.
As her suspicions intensify she’s aided by Marshall Chase, the widower husband of her best friend, a police officer who was killed in the line of duty. Because Marshall is an investigator, he has the connections and insights she needs to fight back against the murderous conspiracy against her family. He’s also attractive, kind and clever, which adds compelling complications to the way she feels about her husband and about the life and status she’s acquired over the years.
Everything that happens during the story takes place in about 48 hours, with finely plotted, character-driven twists that force Bree to probe her own psyche for clues to the motivations of that scary old woman. But because the story is so character-driven there are several points where the action is lulled by long passages delving into the past to deepen the context of what’s happening now.
While that will probably muffle the story’s appeal among those who prefer more rapid-fire pacing, it’s a winning approach for engaging those book club readers who crave stories that beg for interesting discussion, and another fine book by a writer who expertly mines the potential for danger in the everyday places those readers know so well.