Looking for an intense read? “The Push” is the novel you are looking for. Debutant author Ashley Audrain takes her readers on a psychological rollercoaster of emotions. The book touches all the realms of emotions that a sensitive reader would relate to. The insecurities that one feels, the doubts about and the apparent distance between what the situation really is and how much we are to blame for it, whether things would have been different if we did something differently- “The Push” portrays that and much more through the mother-daughter emotional whirlwind that the novel is.
The opening lines of the novel establish the turbulence that is going on inside the mind of the narrator.
A woman is outside a house, sitting inside her car, gazing at the happy home that the house harbors. The people inside depict the exact definition of a “happy family”, at least that’s what gets portrayed. The crackling warmth of the scene through the window is in direct contrast to the stale cold Christmas air in the car. The loss and the envy that loss has resulted in, find a more direct and scary presentation when the narrator makes a horrific remark as the woman lights candles amongst the fir boughs over the mantle- “I let myself imagine, for a moment, watching those boughs go up in flames while you all sleep tonight. I imagine the warm, butter-yellow glow of your house turns to a hot, crackling red.”
The woman is eaten up by desires, authentic enough in their origins, but ones that have turned ugly due to the lack of their fulfillment. The desire and the loss was of a family- a family out of the man inside the house, Fox Connor, and the woman in the car, Blythe.
Blythe and Fox have been college sweethearts. They married young and things seemed pretty stable as the young couple supported each other and their dreams. Fox was a budding architect and Blythe a fiction writer. They were happy, but they saw their relationship and their future from two very different perspectives. Blythe was happy with how things were. Fox wanted to start a family. This may seem like a rather usual issue in many modern-day marriages, but Blythe’s defiance towards Fox’s wishes of starting a family stemmed from deep-lying insecurities that were the culmination of a series of horrific and stressful incidents that had a hierarchical pattern.
This matrilineal history of generational traumas that gave birth to the Blythe who greets the readers in the opening lines of the book could be traced back to Etta, Blythe’s grandmother, and maybe even beyond. Soon after Etta’s marriage, she gets bedridden, and the responsibility of taking care of her young daughter, Cecilia, falls on the shoulders of Cecilia’s grandmother. The tragic memories and experiences that were handed down from Etta to Blythe via Cecilia, made it even harder for Blythe to disregard Cecilia’s ominous prediction as to how the women of the family were “different”.
Etta tried to drown Cecelia once while washing her hair and even put her in a tiny root cellar once, locking the door from the outside. Freud describes the ambivalent emotional dynamics that persist in mother-daughter relationships in his psychoanalytical theories and those find vivid presentations in the relationships that “The Push” portrays. Such ambivalent sentiments were probably what resulted in attachment issues in the mother-daughter relationships in “The Push”.
So, when Violet, Blythe, and Fox’s daughter, arrive, the young mother becomes extremely scared of history repeating itself. To make things worse, Violet is not an easy daughter to manage. She is cranky most of the time, especially so when around Blythe (according to Blythe at least). Violet grows up to be a manipulative and spoilt teenager, further ruining her relationship with her mother. With Fox, though, Violet had a rather loving and “normal” relationship.
Sam, Blythe and Fox’s son gave Blythe the bliss that she craved so much, but at an immense cost that would go onto affect Blythe’s professional life to a great extent, putting Blythe’s novel on hold. The turmoils of Blythe’s life seem to trap her in a vicious loop of struggles and confusions, getting her tangled in the labyrinths of her own thoughts.
The book is an authentic representation of the various troubles of sensitive and broken individuals, especially women, and more specifically mothers. They are often ridden by the guilt that they are probably not being able to provide enough. People often get tangled in what is, what could, and should have been. They do not understand whether their current situation is a culmination of their acts or if this is what was always meant to be, no matter what they did.
Blythe, too, is a victim of the above. She does not understand whether violet was born this way or if she was a failure as a mother. Her insecurities and past traumas did not help.
Audrain cleverly uses literary devices to give shape to the insecurities and confusions that nested in Blythe’s mind. She uses color tones and intelligently situated milieus in her novel to make the reader sympathize with the narrator.
The tone of the novel is confident. Audrain intends to commit upon the readers the uncomfortable yet sentimental aspects of the novel. The best part about the novel, though, is its universal appeal. One could easily mistake the story as a domestic thriller type, but it is much more than that. It subtly puts forth the long-lasting effects that untreated and unaddressed trauma can have on people and how it could pass on from one generation to another.
There are some parts where the storytelling could be improved though. Even though the novel is fairly paced through most parts, sufficiently interspersed with relevant twists and turns that further the plot, there are certain places where the story drags on with unimportant details.
“The Push” has been a good and engaging experience overall. Even though it might not look so, the book is a good read even for new fathers. The book, even though it deals more intricately with various mother-daughter relationships, has a universal appeal. It is a piece for every sensitive reader out there who wants to understand themselves and the relationships around them more intricately so as to deal with life more empathetically.