Author Jennifer Gilmore's New Novel Confronts the Mother of All Struggles

'The Mothers' Addresses Jewish Infertility Epidemic

Gilmore’s Complaint: Novelist fearlessly traces the internal terrain of an unsentimental Jewish woman caught in motherhood’s potent spell.
Amanda Marsalis
Gilmore’s Complaint: Novelist fearlessly traces the internal terrain of an unsentimental Jewish woman caught in motherhood’s potent spell.

By Pamela Cytrynbaum

Published April 25, 2013, issue of May 03, 2013.
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● The Mothers
By Jennifer Gilmore
Scribner, 288 pages, $26

In her novel “The Mothers,” Jennifer Gilmore has written the book all women of a certain age going through the infertility cycles of hell long to hand to any member of the fertile world who asks that innocent but searing question: So, are you pregnant yet?

If this achingly honest book had come out 15 years ago, when I was slogging through the maternal obstacle course of infertility treatments, I would have carried around copies of Gilmore’s raw, unflinching report from the reproductive trenches. What a relief it would have been to have the words I could not utter in such precise, poignant form.

Here comes that colleague who gets pregnant when her husband sneezes. “So, any news?” she’d ask. I’d slide the book out of my purse, hand it to her and walk away.

Jesse and Ramon are a smart, devoted couple. Jesse is a cancer survivor. She’s also Jewish. Ramon is not. His Spanish and Italian culture and her yearning Jewishness are explored with nuance, and with especially elegant wrinkles that play out with food (what else?), his mother (who else?) and, not surprisingly, the meaning of motherhood.

Gilmore’s writing is crisp and visual, and sits you right down next to her. Unlike most books on this topic, Gilmore, mercifully, doesn’t drag us through the details of the couple’s infertility treatments, what Jesse calls “the fairy-tale forest from hell.” Instead, the book takes us through the heartbreaking, relentless, comical and otherworldly journey through the byzantine process of adoption. There are lovely, fully realized sub-stories involving birth mothers and fellow infertile travelers.

And all that magical thinking. The mind of the infertile woman is ripe with endless bargaining about what will — and won’t — get her the Holy Grail baby. When Jesse and Ramon are, again, late for an adoption training session, Jesse notes, “Again we would be late and all the babies would be taken by the sane and the prompt.”

I love Jesse. She’s a worrier. She worries if any of the Christian birth mothers will give her their baby though she’s Jewish. She tortures herself on Facebook by monitoring the “baby status” of all her colleagues, acquaintances and distant relatives. She’s sassy, saucy, sharp, funny — and a dazzling tour guide through her own pain.


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