“Though hope is an understatement. People hope for good weather. I’m aching like a lost sailor aches for land.”
Mother Knows Best puts us in the perpetual conflict that exists in the striving for motherhood. How far is too far? What would you be willing to do for a healthy, breathing, living child of your own? It is an easy question for our protagonist Claire: everything. After losing her son Connor to genetic issues he inherited from her, she seeks out a doctor who might be able to let her have her own biological child. The problem is that it is experimental, illegal and also introduces the dilemma we usually encounter when thinking about scientific progress – just because we can, does that mean we should? Tampering with the embryo, creating a child that naturally should not exist, feels fairly close to hubris.
The narrative moves between the here and now, with all the female characters taking on the narrator role. That makes sense, since it is a story about female identity just as much as motherhood. Both our main female characters thrive in their respective careers and have differing reactions when they lose it. What I didn’t like was the villainising of Jillian and the obvious display of the virgin/whore dichotomy. Jillian is shown to be hyper sexual, manipulative, deceptive – it’s just a very long list of horrid behaviour. Initially I assumed she was ambitious and could understand that, but then she devolves into this crazy, obsessed woman. Maybe there are people like that, but everyone seems a bit bonkers in this world.
“If it’s selfish and reckless to sacrifice everything for my child’s health, then maybe I am unfit to be a mother. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Peikoff’s novel is a page-turner, and the narrative executes the mystery quite well. If you are looking for a decent thriller and a quick read, this is the book for you. What ruins it for me is how easily the numerous conflicts resolve themselves, where years of lies and resentment are so quickly forgotten and forgiven. Mother Knows Best sets up two camps on the perspective of genetic modification, but eventually, the side that is against it just caves in conveniently and proceeds to convince the rest of the Scientific community that this is okay because other countries are doing it now. This outcome just feels too tidy for a thriller. There were no consequences or repercussions; everything is just hunky dory and packaged in a cute little bow.
Peikoff was also so focused on the mystery that she didn’t really think about her characters. These women don’t sound real, and the men are just spinning in the periphery with no sense of agency. They are manipulated and deceived by the women throughout the entire novel. Motherhood is complicated and life changing, but Peikoff’s portrayal feels almost certifiable.
Peikoff’s novel reminds me a tad of Paula Hawkins’ Girl On The Train, where we have more fun whirling around in the mystery than developing any fondness for the characters. But maybe that’s okay. Sometimes the whole point of fiction is the madcap escapism it offers, and Mother Knows Best is exactly that.
Review copy provided
Mother Knows Best is quite the page-turner and delivers a decent mystery. Unfortunately, the characters don’t get the same treatment, leaving them quite one-dimensional in their characterisation