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the theme of maternity: trendy?

I finally decided that I’ve mentioned this, in passing, so many times that I felt it deserved a post of its own.

The gist is, I’ve formed a growing observation over the last 6-8 months or so (ahem, that would be about how long I’ve had this blog) that I’ve read a lot of books that deal with women’s feelings about their children, feelings about maternity, motherhood, family, and mother-child bonds. I have not sought these books out; I don’t read much in the way of “women & relationships” or romance, and I read very lightly in the realm of pop fiction. Where have all these books come from? My favorite genre is murder mysteries, and the bulk of the books I’m referring to come from this genre; including some quite gory, graphic thrillers. I’m pretty sure this thematic trend is new; mysteries have not always been mommy-oriented! What’s up with that? Let’s take a look. I have written about…

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Look Again by Lisa Scottoline
Love You More by Lisa Gardner
These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

And I’ve also so far avoided Emma Donoghue’s Room, despite being tempted, because I fear more of the same.

There are mothers in mysteries in general. I know a certain woman in my life has had a growing frustration with Elizabeth George’s series of Inspector Lynley mysteries, due to Deborah St. James’s ongoing guilt, one might even say obsession, with an abortion she had that seems to have effected her ability to have children. This is a thread and a theme within the series – not a major one, but one that helps develop the characters who we get to know so well over the many books, which I feel is one of their strengths. Lynley, Helen, Deborah, St. James, Havers, and a whole cast of characters have extraordinary depth over the course of the series. But, my friend is bothered by the politics; she fears that George is making a political statement about abortion. This led me to this website on which George states her politics on the issue, if rather obliquely. Sorry, I have digressed. My point was, there are mothers in mysteries. Always have been. There are mothers in life, otherwise how would we all get here?

But my observation here is of mysteries that are themed heavily around maternal feelings and mother-child bonds. All of the books I listed above treat this theme as central to the plot. I think it’s a current trend in popular fiction, which probably reflects a current trend in our public consciousness. Babies and how to make them are on a lot of minds these days; the related medical industry is doing fairly well I do believe. I think trends in fiction & literature reflect cultural trends. For example, We Need to Talk About Kevin (by Lionel Shriver) and Nineteen Minutes (by Jodi Picoult), both fictionalized stories about school shootings, seemed to come from headlines in the years 2005-2008 or thereabouts. Several novels about autistic children have come out in the last 5 years or so too, as autism awareness has become a growing cause. No coincidence, right?

It makes sense to me that fiction reflects our culture; art follows life, yes? But I get a little bit frustrated with this theme. This theme in particular, or just the repetition of a theme? Well, I can get a little impatient with this particular theme in life (the real world); I’m not anxious to be a parent and fail to empathize with that (seemingly, majority) portion of the world that is. So I’m impatient with it in my reading life, too. But repetition is annoying as well. It’s getting to the point where I feel I need to avoid it when picking out reading material, just to get out of a rut.

What do you think? Am I nuts? Is there no trend? (Insert Freudian remark about my biological clock here?) Or is there a trend, and if so how do you feel about it?

Politico-disclaimer: I’ve tried not to make this a rant of my own opinions on “the issues.” If you’re interested in my rant 🙂 I’ve provided it for you, as briefly as possible, below. If you’d rather avoid (most of) the political angle on this post… stop here.

Briefly (if possible), and in the interest of satisfying your curiosity or confusion on my stances:

I am vehemently pro-choice. The folks who call themselves “pro-life” are not, in my opinion, pro-life at all; they are anti-choice. Lots of people have written very intelligent defenses of this position, so I don’t feel the need to spend a lot of time on this. It’s self-evident to me that women should have control over their bodies and reproductive futures, and to deny them that right is unjust.

I don’t want to have children. I think there are far too many people on this earth; if we don’t cause it to implode and kill every living thing on it, including ourselves, it will be miraculous. There are lots of unwanted babies on the planet; if you want to raise one, please do, but please don’t make more. I think reproduction in today’s world is a politically and socially irresponsible act, and it affects all of us, not just the two parents or extended family.

That said, I have lots of friends who are having babies (some of them at great effort and expense), and I’m not personally angry with any of them. I can’t really get my head around their desire to reproduce, but they’re my friends. I’m happy when they’re happy; when they’re happy to reproduce, I’m happy for them, but from a few steps away.

One Response

  1. I’m copy/pasting in a thread of conversation from my facebook account on this, from my friends over there. Hope they don’t mind.

    Darryl: So the books you listed were written by women. Women are quite connected to motherhood. The theme naturally seeps into all manner of subjects. With no specific example in mind, try a book by a man to get away from the theme (if that’s what you desire). Good luck.

    Valerie: Speaking of male writers, have you read the Benjamin Black (aka John Banville) “Christine Falls” books? They do involve a pregnant woman who dies, but I don’t remember them being about maternal themes so much. (I could remember wrong, though!)

    Darryl: Also, I’m totally sucked in to the Stieg Larsson “Girl” trilogy. I’m waiting for the third to come out in paper back. It’s sometimes slow reading, and the translation to English makes for some awkward phrasing (or just “different” phrasing, which I’m quite used to, dealing with Scandinavians on a regular basis), but MAN, by the time you’re “in”, you’re way IN.

    Catherine: i only read bike mags, Lucky mag, and books about food and living off the land so i don’t run into this problem (tho Lucky did dip into the maternal waters a few issues back). But i am glad to have found someone else who feels this way: “I can’t really get my head around their desire to reproduce…”. I’m glad i’m not the only female on this planet who feels this way!

    me: what fun 🙂 thanks for your input y’all. yes Darryl, point well taken. but women who write gory mystery/thrillers? really? I do read men. but I don’t think women who write books should HAVE to write about babies!

    Darryl: Woman thriller/ mystery author Lisa Scottoline without motherhood commentary. This according to my wife, but when I asked her about the detail of the gore, she shut down and went back to whatever she was working on. I can’t vouch as I haven’t even heard of the author.

    me: lol, she’s on my list of offenders.

    for this I like Martha Grimes and Elizabeth George – although George also goes there, actually. but in ways that don’t bother me, mostly. also, note that it’s not that I CAN’T read about this stuff; just bothered by the persistence of it.

    Darryl: oopth.

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