When thinking of modern authors who have a strong grasp on the Gothic tone, the name Carol Goodman must rise to the top. In novel after novel, she manages to find creative ways to explore the dark psychological temperaments common to the Gothic subgenre while also conceiving new versions of the tranquil, yet creepy, locations where these tales are most often set. Her latest, The Other Mother, uses the author’s now-familiar framework to explore complicated attitudes about motherhood.
The Other Mother begins as Daphne Marist and her infant daughter, Chloe, relocate to the Catskills for a unique job opportunity. Daphne is going to act as archivist to Schuyler Bennett, the legendary author of unsettling stories for children. Never mind the fact that Daphne doesn’t have the skills required for such a job, she is convinced that she can adapt quickly – after all, she is on the run from her abusive husband and living under an assumed name, so is she really in any position to be picky?
As Daphne settles into the Bennett mansion, she becomes fascinated with the history of the mental asylum that resides just on the other side of the stately grounds. As a fan of Schuyler’s writing, Daphne is convinced that some of her story’s origins rest in the true accounts of inmates at the asylum run by the Bennett patriarch. But as she digs deeper into the past, her own mental stability once again comes into question.
Before going on the run, Daphne had been dealing with the effects of Postpartum Mood Disorder. Under a therapist’s care, she met Laurel Hobbes – another mother in a similar situation. The two immediately became friends, to such an extent that they became inseparable – and almost indistinguishable. Since Laurel’s daughter is also named Chloë (with an umlaut), both women feel their connection to be destiny. Meanwhile, their husbands are either unwilling to interfere or oblivious to the ramifications – either of which seem authentic to the characters as presented – allowing for the tragedy that follows to commence.
Through diary entries, which were required by the therapist, readers learn about these two woman and their struggles to adjust to the idea of being mothers. This exploration of the psychology of motherhood is what makes The Other Mother so unique. Too often, we only view motherhood as a blessing; but there can be darker sides created by the chemical changes within the body during and after pregnancy. Exploring the dichotomy between the happiness of having a baby and the loss of one’s self is a brilliant choice by Carol Goodman, and it is only further buoyed by setting the tale in the ominous shadows of the mental hospital.
Fans of Carol Goodman’s work will expect – and not be disappointed – that the tale eventually takes a sudden turn, throwing everything the reader knows into question. From that point on, past and present blur, lucidity and insanity vie for dominance, and long buried secrets are exposed.
Like all of Carol Goodman’s writing, The Other Mother features strong and independent female characters who, even in the face of adversity, are able to rely on themselves to suss out the truth and discover the necessary answers in order to survive, and possibly – hopefully – thrive. Readers should be prepared to turn themselves over to the web of words Carol Goodman spins – for there is no escaping until every facade is shattered.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.