There are many reasons why I never want to have children. These reasons tend to fall into one of three categories: physical, financial, and intellectual. The physical and financial reasons are the ones that we focus on the most, because some of the intellectual reasons aren’t very palatable. The Push, by Ashley Audrain, brings one of these reasons into stark focus and asks us what we would do if we gave birth to a psychopath and knew it even when the child was young.
This discussion tends to hinge on the nature versus nurture argument. We want children to be innocent, to be born malleable like clay. But the truth is that as much as we can’t determine the sex of a baby, we can’t determine what kind of person they will become. Are some people simply born bad, meant to take pleasure out of the suffering or injury of others? Can any amount of nurture turn this kind of biological wiring towards the light? What does it mean when our child is a monster – are we also monsters?
A famous TV show (that people are trying to bring back, apparently) faced this question head on. Dexter put a serial killer front and center. His urges to kill are psychological, he can’t escape them, but by being a part of the forensics team he can be a kind of anti-hero: killing the bad guys, and then being the person to analyze the crime scenes allows him to cover his tracks. The show suggests that if we direct the negative tendencies in a good direction, a person could become good.
What makes The Push so compelling is that in addition to the child being psychologically unsound, the possible nurturing influence is waylaid by the husband’s inability to believe his wife. This novel reminded me a lot of Grady Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, where the women know for a fact something is wrong, but their husbands ignore them out of a combination of disbelief in the supernatural and “female hysteria,” which leads to the vampire preying on their children. Fox’s brushing off of Blythe’s concerns allows Violet to continue her destructive behavior (with disastrous results), when perhaps a united front could have out-nurtured the nature.
In addition to this, Audrain adds a sprinkling of familial trauma, giving Blythe the belief that the women of her bloodline are simply destined to be miserable or messed up. Her grandmother’s and her mother’s experiences are described in addition to Blythe’s story, so we see how trauma is passed down through the generations. I think that Blythe is trying to break the cycle, and in her fervor finds herself questioning whether anything is worth it or if the fact that any woman in her bloodline is destined to be crazy should simply be accepted.
If you like mysteries and thrillers you absolutely must not miss The Push. It is easily the best book I have read all year so far. It’s a fast-paced thriller that will keep you guessing, until it shows you what happens and you’ll be guessing again for different reasons. The ending alone is terrifying! Ms. Audrain, I would like to have a word with you!
Go get it. It is essential 2021 reading.
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