The New Mother: A Novel

Image of The New Mother: A Novel
Release Date: 
May 30, 2023
Minotaur Books
Reviewed by: 

“an electrifying read.”

Many mothers acknowledge the joy of pregnancy and the impending birth of a long-awaited child. In the best cases, through the gestation period everyone coddles the mom, offering assistance in any small matter. But no one prepares the mother for after the baby is born, and all the attention is turned to the infant. 

Natalie Fanning is overjoyed by the arrival of Oliver. Things couldn't be much better. She has a position she is passionate about as an attorney, happy marriage to a lawyer husband Tyler, and a brand-new dream home. Now, their family is complete with Oliver. She has 12 weeks of maternity  leave, and though she loves her child unconditionally, she misses the hustle and bustle of her job. Oliver is a cranky infant and constantly vying for Natalie and no one else. His neediness is wearing her down, and she is exhausted from lack of sleep. 

When released from the hospital, all she wants is rest:

“I wanted to unpack my things from the duffel bag. To take a shower beneath the rain shower head in the master bathroom. To pop a Midol. To lie down. But how could I do any of these things now that Oliver was here? I longed, ached, to put him back inside me. Then I could go about my business while knowing he was safe and comfortable and part of me.”

Tyler is of little help. When she pleads for him to care for their son, he reiterates that the baby only wants her, for he cries whenever Tyler takes him. 

What can Natalie do? The fatigue starts to do her in, and she wonders if she is going crazy. Overwhelmed, she states:

“I felt broken. Heavy with exhaustion. Hunger was twisting my insides into knots. Pain was ricocheting through me as I sat on the unforgiving wooden chair. I felt like a nuisance to myself. A burden. That my needs and my feeling still existed wasn't fair. How could I possibly care for us both?” 

Natalie realizes many women return to work after their sabbatical, but she hates to leave her baby. She feels caught between two worlds. She loves her son and job, but how can she mesh the two together without problems?

She finds her employment an effort while worrying about Oliver causes a clash at her company, so she takes indefinite time off. The walls of her house start to close in on her, so she puts Oliver in his stroller and decides to walk, hoping to calm him. 

On her excursion, she meets a new neighbor from a few doors down. Paul Riley is a 40-something stay-at-home dad for his elementary-school-aged daughter Petra. Paul had been a professor at a local university when there was an indication that he was having an inappropriate relationship with one of his students, so he was asked to resign. His wife Erin has a high-powered job in finance, and she suggests Paul remain in the house and write the novel he's always talked about. This way, he can also oversee Petra and her studies and activities. She had never been able to bond with the child, so Paul is thrilled to be a "house dad"!

Before long, Natalie and Paul become friends, and it seems Paul is the only one who can soothe the cranky Oliver. Though he's older than she, and they're both married, Natalie finds a true friend in Paul. They often visit until Erin learns of their friendship and orders Natalie to "stay away from my husband!" In fact, at a get-together at her house, she makes a scene over this in front of those gathered. 

Natalie and Tyler rush back home after Natalie asserts she and Paul are just friends, which causes a great deal of hostility and whispers by the neighbors. Once inside, Tyler is livid, asking what the heck is happening. Natalie again tells him she's drowning with caring for their son; Paul has been only a friend, and she cannot understand why Erin flew off the handle. Little does she know that Paul has his own agenda.

The following day, Erin goes missing. Paul calls the police and peruses the neighbors, querying everyone if they have seen his wife. When he gets to Natalie's house she, with an oddly cool disposition, tells him the last she saw Erin was when she admonished her, so he leaves without another word.   

Before long, Erin's body is discovered in the woods behind Natalie's home, wrapped in a baby blanket Paul had given her for Oliver. Shocked at this, Natalie questions herself, wondering if she maybe did something to Erin and, in her fugue state, doesn't remember it. Natalie becomes the prime suspect, and some neighbors can attest to Erin's argument with Natalie.

With this situation, Natalie is bewildered. She's lost her friend Paul, her husband is concerned about her, and the residents of her street are wary of her. All she wanted was some companionship as Tyler was working all day, and she needed someone to commiserate with her alleged failings as a new mom. 

But the real question is: Who killed Erin?

Overwhelmed with losing her identity and caring for a colicky baby has made Natalie extremely vulnerable. In this novel packed with powerful suspense, one can easily understand her situation, making this an electrifying read.