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The Rage And Wonder Of A Mother Unleashed (Literally)


There are all kinds of places where new parents can get advice - books, advice, columns, podcasts. But none of them quite explain what is happening to the unnamed mother in Rachel Yoder's new novel. For instance, her body's changing.

RACHEL YODER: There's weird hair. There's sharpened teeth, perhaps. We're not quite sure.

CORNISH: Her habits are changing, too.

YODER: This desire for raw meat, an insatiable hunger.

CORNISH: The mother is turning into a dog.

YODER: And then it kind of is off to the races after that, once she realizes what's going on, can't resist it any longer and then is sort of out roaming the neighborhood at night.

CORNISH: And the novel gets much wilder from there. Now, the title - we want to pause and warn you because it contains profanity. It's called "Nightbitch." It's a horrifying and frankly hilarious look at the beautiful and infuriating experience of motherhood and what happens when a mother literally howls in protest. Rachel Yoder told me it came out of her experience. Like the mother in the story, she quit a dream job to stay home with her new son.

YODER: I really wanted to explore what I was going through in early motherhood, this sort of rage at where I found myself, this rage at the structures of society that I felt had kind of led me to that point.

CORNISH: Were you surprised that you were angry?

YODER: Yes. Yes. To a certain extent I was because that had not been my vision of motherhood. You know, I thought it was going to be this endeavor my husband and I did together equally. It was going to be modern. I was going to be able to feel fulfilled in my career and in my art and also have a child.

And when I found myself in this position - a stay-at-home mom, my husband on the road every week - I thought to myself, how did I arrive here?

CORNISH: It sounds like you thought you were entitled to it. You expected more.

YODER: I expected more. And I felt - I think the biggest feeling was that I felt tricked - you know, that somehow the stories I had been told were false. And part of the work was to say, OK, well, what's the truth? How can I tell the truth? What's the truth of what happened? And is there a story that I can tell to sort of transform this rage into something productive and empowering rather than something that's sort of eating me up inside?

CORNISH: It's interesting. When I think back to other stories I've read in this vein, they're often about puberty. They're often about the transition that comes...

YODER: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...Right? - with moving from childhood to adulthood.

YODER: Yeah. And I really do consider this story a sort of coming-of-age story. I think we have a lot of coming-of-ages in our lives. And this is really about the mother moving from her girlhood into her womanhood and doing it perhaps not all that elegantly. It's messy. It's complicated. But it is a sort of coming-of-age. How do we come into our womanhood, into our motherhoods in a way that is empowering rather in a way that feels like we're abandoning ourselves?

CORNISH: And I'm surprised I haven't seen this analogy more often because, obviously, when it comes to being pregnant, to giving birth and what happens after, your body goes through so much transformation.

YODER: Right. Right. I mean...

CORNISH: Like, it's been the province basically of Ridley Scott in "Alien..."

YODER: (Laughter) Yeah.

CORNISH: ...(Laughter) So far. It doesn't seem like more of us have approached this.

YODER: Yeah. Exactly. I mean, why is there not more sort of body horror written about pregnancy and motherhood? But I wasn't interested in this just being a sort of pure horror book because I thought there was a lot more possibility in the body horror trope for moving beyond horror into something that is ultimately hopeful.

CORNISH: And I notice fundamentally this character is incredibly lonely.

YODER: (Laughter) Yeah.

CORNISH: I mean, she's...


CORNISH: She is quite literally a lonely animal. And I was struck at some moments where I thought, like - she does something that I actually don't like that women do, which is to dismiss connection with other moms because they're busy trying to basically distance themselves from the idea of motherhood.

YODER: Yes. Absolutely. And that was an instinct I saw in myself and also didn't like as I kind of moved into stay-at-home parenting. It was really hard for me to connect with other moms. And I think I had...

CORNISH: 'Cause it's that sort of like, I'm not a mom. I'm cool. (Laughter) Like, I'm...

YODER: Yeah. Exactly.

CORNISH: You know what I mean? It's an extension of the cool girl, I think.

YODER: Exactly. And it's sort of like internalized misogyny in a way - right? - this thinking that you're - I was kind of buying in to the story that motherhood is, you know, not - it's nice. It's great that you can be at home. But it's not really of that much value. Moms aren't that interesting.

And so in the book, I really wanted a way for this mother to overcome that. How could she kind of start looking at the moms as her pack as opposed to women who aren't cool enough for her to hang out with?

CORNISH: I wasn't sure if I wanted to (laughter) talk about this. But it feels like it's a very important part of the book and then something that many people will have experienced in their partnerships in the last year, especially because of the pandemic, which is that the workload is not split equally.

YODER: Yeah. That's something that has come up a lot over this past year in the pandemic.

CORNISH: And we should say, in the book, it's not set up like, you're the woman - you're going to stay home. It is a conversation that, I think, probably plays out or has played out recently for a lot of people, which is, who makes more money? They're going to keep working. And the person who maybe makes a little less, which, of course, is often women, is the one who's going to stay home. And then you can't afford child care. And all of a sudden, you're in a position you didn't expect.

YODER: Right. But I do think what we have seen in this past year is that the negotiation of those roles needs to go beyond just this simple sort of you do this and I do that. But it's this constant ongoing conversation. And I think - you know, in the book, this mother is unable to have that conversation for a long time until it - you know, something finally opens up for her and she is able to start talking about it with her husband and come out of this sort of rageful silence.

CORNISH: Finally, there is a wildness, fundamentally, that this character learns to embrace. What does that look like for those of us who are not going to end up a werewolf?

YODER: (Laughter). I mean, I think it looks different for everyone, obviously. For me, the question is, what happens when we turn toward that sort of wild, perhaps rageful, feral part of ourselves and move into relationship with it, move into negotiating some sort of understanding with it rather than suppressing it and pretending it's not there and sort of pushing it to the back? Like, what happens when we explore that part of ourselves that, I think, in motherhood can really flourish? - this really wild, creative, powerful self.

CORNISH: Well, Rachel Yoder, thank you so much for sharing with us. And congrats on your debut novel.

YODER: Thank you so much.

CORNISH: Her debut novel is called "Nightbitch."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
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