Ifeoma Chinwuba: “The Push”

Ifeoma Chinwuba

by Ifeoma Chinwuba

The Push by Ashley Audrain, Viking, 2021, 303 pages.

When Asheley Audrain’s novel, The Push, emerged, I took in the rave review with a pinch of salt, knowing that she had worked with Penguin. A case of  ‘tiwantiwa,’ I thought. This is the Yoruba equivalent of La Cosa Nostra. She has friends and colleagues in the publishing industry and they are promoting one of their own.

Long story short, I read The Push and yes, it is a page-turner. And I know why; the voice of the narrator, Blythe Connor. She goes down memory lane to recount how a family came to be, and how it then unravelled. She puts the blame squarely on her loveless daughter, Violet, a child that even a mother is unable to muster love for. It is not a case of unrequited love; there is no love lost between mother and daughter.

Apparently, none of the duo is to blame. The conundrum, like a cancer that traverses many generations, runs in the family. When a son is born that could end the jinx, his life is cut short, as if to say, Stay out of this; Women only.

Audrain’s book is episodic. She builds her narrative by progressing chronologically from one scene to another, harping on the milestone events that mark the Connor family and showcase the devilry in their offspring. 

The Push is told in two persons’ narration. Majority of the story is told by Blythe in the first person. She delves into the past to present her perspective to a ‘you’, her ex-husband, Fox. The style is therefore, epistolary. Audrain’s thesis is that the constitutions of mothers and grandmothers pre-determine their daughter’s make-up. The trajectories of Etta and Cecilia, Blythe’s grandmother and mother respectively, are presented in italics, using the Third Person narration. The recourse to this technique serves to fill in the gaps inherent in a limited first person view point. It also elucidates the blighted umbilicus between mothers and daughters.

The Push makes an excellent use of voice. In the book industry, it is the voice that draws the reader in, that sells books. The Push has a bestseller voice that is humble, modest, sincere, riveting.

The novel is a psychological thriller, a battle between good and evil, represented by mother and daughter. In addition, it could pass for a sociological tale with a clear message; Motherhood, sometimes, does not come naturally to women. The fault this time, is in their genetic makeup. Some women are not wired to be mothers, period. When Blythe was born, Cecilia wanted to abandon her in the maternity ward and abscond. Years into this hateful relationship, Blythe got ‘on my hands and knees and prayed that my mother would die.’ (p. 215). Blythe herself would, years later, turn out to be ‘The only mother who looked at her daughter and thought, Please. Go away.’ (p. 38). This feeling will be reciprocated when Violet tells her mother at bed time,

 I want you to leave again.

‘’’

Leave us. Me and Dad. (p.172).

Oedipus Complex is when a son unknowingly kills Dad and marries Mom. What is its equivalent for the daughter, who detests the mother and wants the father all to herself? This is the state of affairs in The Push. Women will have a vicarious attachment to this theme, because many are the mothers who have a strained relationship with their daughters. The awe in The Push, is that the skewed relations start promptly at birth.

Audrain offers a refreshing view of concepts; Engorged breasts are ‘like boulders,’ while ‘My breasts wilted like the plant in our kitchen. My stomach spilled over the indent of my underwear like the foam on the edge of my lukewarm latte. My thighs were marshmallows punctured with a roasting stick.’ (pp.127-8). Many readers will recognize themselves in these images.

 What is the downside, then? Audrain lavishes a heap of information on the protagonist and not enough on other principal characters. Almost nothing is known of the new Mrs. Connor. And Fox’s antecedents are muted. Perhaps this is not fortuitous. Perhaps Audrain’s focus is on the maternal genealogy of the evil child. If this is so, why did the evil gene bypass Blythe? Flit, like a butterfly from Etta to Cecilia and into Violet?

In conclusion, The Push merits the accolades poured on it. From subject matter to language, to voice, it is well crafted. Ms. Audrain’s years at Penguin have served her well and paid off.

Ms. Ifeoma Chinwuba is the author of Merchants of Flesh, Fearless, Waiting for Maria and African Romance. She is the 2021-2022 Writer-in-Residence of the University of Alberta, Edmonton.

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