In this thought-provoking trio of new novels, Helen Phillips, Jo Baker and Chandler Baker immerse their readers in the dangers and anxieties inherent to modern womanhood.
In The Need, Molly, a dedicated paleobotanist, works in a fossil quarry that yields baffling specimens, including unheard-of plant varieties and artifacts that are familiar yet utterly strange. The latter, which includes a Bible in which the text is recognizable with one unsettling difference, begin to draw tourists and conspiracy theorists to the site. At the same time, Molly is also an exhausted, nursing mother of two young children whose husband is out of the country on business. One night, Molly’s world turns upside down when she discovers a masked intruder in her home who has a startlingly intimate familiarity with Molly’s life.
Dabbling in the supernatural, Helen Phillips has created a fascinating plot through which she explores the deep, conflicting tensions surrounding modern motherhood, personal identity and the nature of our existence in the universe. Moreover, Phillips’ novel will have a powerful, visceral impact on anyone who has parented young children. The Need will keep readers rapidly turning pages as Molly navigates conflicting emotions in a chillingly surreal landscape.
Jo Baker tackles a very different threat: sexual assault. In The Body Lies, a stranger attacks the unnamed narrator near her London home. Three years later, to escape the memory, the narrator seeks a university job in the isolated countryside north of London. Once there, she meets her creative writing students, including a troubled young man named Nicholas Palmer who insists he is writing experimental “art” in which he only writes “the truth.” While struggling with an impossible workload, a young son and a strained marriage, the narrator becomes increasingly concerned for and disconcerted by Nicholas, as she becomes a character in his distorted version of the truth. All the while, a sense of danger and mystery pervades the novel in the form of a frozen corpse left in the countryside.
Baker (Longbourn) boldly and refreshingly insists on changing the narrative surrounding sexual assault. The Body Lies is not another story of a silent, naked, dead girl. Rather, Baker brilliantly weaves in Nicholas’ concept of truth and shows how it plays out in his writing, so the narrator’s ability to voice her own truth creates a powerful contrast. Indeed, this novel is the story of a survivor, not a victim.
In Whisper Network, Chandler Baker takes on sexual harassment in corporate America. Sloane, Ardie and Grace are in-house lawyers working for a Dallas-based athleisure apparel company. When the CEO suddenly dies, it becomes clear that Ames Garrett will most likely fill the role. Ames, however, has a well-earned reputation, whispered among female employees, for sexually harassing and assaulting women in the workplace for over a decade. Moreover, he shows no signs of stopping, if his actions toward the newest employee are any indicator. Sloane, Ardie and Grace must decide whether to bring Ames’ actions to light before his promotion. Unforeseeable consequences of their choice soon threaten all three women.
Baker has written a bitingly funny yet insightful novel detailing the pitfalls of being a woman in corporate America today. Throughout this well-crafted novel, Baker tells the story primarily through dialogue but also employs deposition and police interview transcripts. This structure creates a delicious sense of suspense that will keep the reader guessing. It’s the perfect choice for book clubs seeking an entertaining book that will stimulate thought-provoking discussion.