In these two thrillers, one group of women is committed to remaining childfree, while the other focuses on impending motherhood. But when support and camaraderie transform into sabotage and cruelty, who can the women trust with their lives?
Ah, to be young, carefree and self-righteous, like Sheila Heller and her college friends Dina, Naama and Ronit in Sarah Blau’s The Others, translated from the Hebrew by Daniella Zamir.
The four women became fast and fierce friends after meeting in a freshman year Bible course at Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University, dubbing themselves the Others and making an earnest vow: “We’re not like the rest . . . like all the students eager to get married during senior year, start having babies and settle down; we’re going to steer our own destinies.”
Twenty years on, the women’s lives have taken disparate paths. Narrator Sheila is an instructor at the Bible Museum; Ronit is an actor; sweet Naama has been dead for many years; and acid-tongued Dina, a famous feminist scholar, has been murdered, found with the word “mother” carved into her forehead and a baby doll glued to her hands. It’s horrifying by any measure, but even more so, Sheila muses, because in death Dina was forced to become what she railed against for so long.
Squirrelly police detective Micha Yarden presses Sheila to delve into the past to figure out who’d hate Dina enough to kill her, and Blau smoothly moves the story back and forth in time as Sheila slowly and tantalizingly reveals the friction and pain that led to the group’s separation. Mental illness and the big and small ways humans change over the years are explored via multiple characters, and fascinating parallels between the Others and childless women in the Bible abound, adding yet another layer of social commentary to a compelling and often disturbing narrative.
Is Sheila the culprit, the next victim or some combination thereof? The Others will keep readers guessing as it considers the damaging effects of societal pressure, unresolved resentment and lingering guilt.
There’s pregnancy brain, and then there’s what Dr. Jillian Marsh experiences in R.H. Herron’s Hush Little Baby. Jillian is an OB-GYN, so she knows all about the intense hormonal changes and frustrating forgetfulness that pregnancy can bring, but this feels different. There’s a threatening, ominous charge to the air, a feeling of unease she can’t shake, when her securely locked and alarm-protected home in Venice Beach, California, is suddenly besieged by a host of strange noises, disturbing smells and items mysteriously missing or moved.
Even the titular lullaby curdles from sweet to menacing as Jillian turns to her moms’ group, the Ripleys, for help figuring out if she’s being gaslit, and if so by whom and why. She formed the Ripleys with three other women she met through Alcoholics Anonymous, naming the group after “the protagonist of the Alien movies. . . . Ripley was the baddest of all mothers. She’d fiercely saved the universe twice. We wanted to emulate her, not mommy bloggers.”
Jillian, uber-wealthy Bree, single mom-to-be Maggie and true crime TV producer Camille work together to figure out who might be behind the strange goings-on. Could it be Jillian’s unfaithful estranged wife, Rochelle, deviously angling for full custody? A weird neighbor? Or even Jillian herself, suffering from the aftereffects of her traumatic teen years?
Skepticism from her friends and the police increases Jillian’s self-doubt and leads to conflicts among the Ripleys. The group seems to be fracturing more every day due to closely guarded secrets, differing views on the so-called “right way” to get pregnant and the stress of juggling busy lives and families.
A wild series of twists takes center stage as Herron’s carefully crafted slow-burn psychological suspense turns into something else altogether, spinning the story in a terrifying new direction. Readers who are drawn to creepily stressful tension as well as shocking, edge-of-your-seat sequences will revel in Hush Little Baby, even as they join the characters in taking a harder look at what pregnancy and motherhood offer to and demand from women.