Wednesday, July 10, 2019

New Releases: "The Need," by Helen Phillips

I am many things, but there are two things I am not - a mother and a regular reader of horror fiction. But The Need, the new novel by Helen Phillips, is psychological horror novel about motherhood and I read it anyway. That's why I'm a fan of don't-stay-in-your-lane reading. For it turns out that The Need is psychological horror perhaps the way Kate Atkinson might tell it, and that's why it's getting so much love on its July 9 release date. '

I really was a hard sell, though that cover was definitely intoxicating. It's part of the floral-on-black trend reminds me of another cover I loved, The Immortalists, without aping it. But you generally have to comfort me a bit before you start scaring me when I'm reading and The Need is creepy from the first page. So I'll admit, I started the book, and then I put it down.

I must interrupt this post to ask the vocabulary buffs - is there a word to describe the person, the one you've never really met before, that you keep running into at a conference? It's one of those games of statistics, like the fact that if you're in a room with not that many people, the odds are good that two will have the same birthday. At every bookseller conference I go to, this happens. I will start seeing someone everywhere. Sometimes that person pretends that it is not happening, while other times, we bond, like I did with Carrie at Skylark Bookshop, a relatively new store in Columbia, Missouri that I have plans to visit on my westward road trip through the Midwest and Plains.

At this conference, that person was Helen Phillips. We kept running into each other everywhere, exacerbated by both of us groupy-ishly standing in a lot of lines to get books signed by other authors. But really, we saw each other everywhere - at another party, in the hallway, on the street.

But first we met at a Simon and Schuster dinner, and we had a wonderful conversation about reading and writing and teaching and life in New York, specifically Brooklyn, where writers have these running into each other experiences all the time, but for me, I'm excited when I say hi to a customer in Menomonee Falls or Oak Creek. It happens, they always ask why I'm not at the bookstore, and I'm always grateful that another person traveled farther than you'd expect to shop at Boswell.

When was time to get a copy of The Need signed, I asked if she'd inscribe one to Kay, my philosophy being that if someone gets a book personalized to you, you have to read it. I am well aware that it doesn't work in the slightest, but isn't that true with so many belief systems - you keep believing even though there are clearly holes in the theory?

But first I had to ask Kay, are you at the point in your life where you can read a scary book about motherhood? And she said yes, but I should note that I asked the same to my friend Rebecca, who has two young children, and she said no.

It turns out that Kay loved the book as much as I hoped, and she wrote this recommendation: "The stresses of caring for two very young children while working have kept Molly from taking the occasional misinterpreted sound or sight too seriously. But since David was suddenly called out of town for a week, the odd hallucination has transformed into a very real, um, problem. Perfect pacing, exquisite portrayal of the relentless demands of young children balanced by rare moments of perfect joy, coupled with Molly’s wavering interactions with her antagonist make The Need a beguiling read." (Kay Wosewick)

Kay calls attention to the pacing, which I would also like to mention. The story goes back and forth as Molly and her children are faced with an intruder, and Molly at a fateful day at work. She is a paleobotanist and has unearthed some unusual finds, and one of them has made her a target of hate. The story could be a what-if in Molly's head, or it could be a real speculative head-exploder.

There's a great profile of Helen Phillips in The New York Times, as well as a review from Harriet Lane, who said "Like parenthood itself, The Need is frightening and maddening and full of dark comedy." I should also note there's a wonderful recommendation by Rebecca Makkai, who wrote: "Phillips is, as always, doing something at once wildly her own and utterly primal. Maybe it doesn't surprise me that the strangest book I've read about motherhood is also the best, but it does thrill me." Can I mention here that while Phillips isn't coming to Boswell, Makkai has also been touting Claire Lombardo's The Most Fun We Ever Had and she is visiting, on Tuesday, August 6, 7 pm. Visit our upcoming events page.

I should also mention that when I was at Wisconsin Comic Con selling books with Carole E. Barrowman, we both had a nice conversation about The Need, and Carole reminded me it was in her summer reading roundup in the Journal Sentinel.  She calls it the mother of all domestic thrillers. That's a good one - I wish I thought of that. Barrowman would also like to give an extra shout-out to Kalisha Buckhanon Speaking of Summer, coming at the end of July. Can I also mention how excited I am about Barrowman's next work in progress, set during the Civil War?

But I digress. We're talking about The Need here, and how it just came out, and how I think a number of you are going to want to read it. If you buy it from us, it's Boswell Best (20% off) through at least July 22.

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