I only had to read the title of Ilana Masad’s debut novel to be hooked. It doesn’t spoil the plot to learn that within the first few pages of All My Mother’s Lovers, the mother in question, Iris, dies, leaving behind her daughter, Maggie; her husband, Peter; her son, Ariel; and at least some of the titular lovers.
Iris left each of these men a letter to be read in the event of her death. Maggie, appalled at the revelation of her mother’s secret life, takes it upon herself to hand-deliver them. Lucky for her, all these chaps live within driving distance. Like Maggie, the reader spends much of the novel wondering why Iris, whose marriage and family have been a source of endless joy, would want to step out on her husband—and not once, but multiple times until the day of her death. Was she trying to work out the trauma of her ghastly first marriage? Sort of, but not really. The reasons don’t add up, reminding the reader of life’s untidiness. Maggie, after all, knew her mother for 27 years and had no idea who she really was. Indeed, the two women were pretty opaque to each other. Iris could never quite approve of her daughter’s sexuality, and Maggie actually believed, for a long time, that her mother disliked her.
Masad’s writing style is easy and straightforward, even if her characters aren’t. Maggie was a bit of a mess even before her mother’s death. She’s prickly, rude and histrionic but craves love even as she’s wary of it. She and Ariel have made a lifelong game out of being mean to each other, and both children are polar opposites of their gentle, wise, accepting dad. Masad gives Peter a counterpart in Maggie’s meltingly sweet girlfriend, Lucia. It’s not a coincidence that the beginning and end of the novel find Lucia and Maggie in an intimate situation.
A story of good but difficult characters and the openhearted people who love them, All My Mother’s Lovers is a compassionate and insightful work.