That Kind Of Mother: A Novel by Rumaan AlamThat Kind Of Mother: A Novel by Rumaan Alam

That Kind Of Mother: A Novel

byRumaan Alam

Hardcover | May 8, 2018

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“With his unerring eye for nuance and unsparing sense of irony, Rumaan Alam’s second novel is both heartfelt and thought-provoking.”
   — Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere

From the celebrated author of Rich and Pretty, a novel about the families we fight to build and those we fight to keep

Like many first-time mothers, Rebecca Stone finds herself both deeply in love with her newborn son and deeply overwhelmed. Struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood with her own aspirations and feeling utterly alone in the process, she reaches out to the only person at the hospital who offers her any real help—Priscilla Johnson—and begs her to come home with them as her son’s nanny.

Priscilla’s presence quickly does as much to shake up Rebecca’s perception of the world as it does to stabilize her life. Rebecca is white, and Priscilla is black, and through their relationship, Rebecca finds herself confronting, for the first time, the blind spots of her own privilege. She feels profoundly connected to the woman who essentially taught her what it means to be a mother. When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca steps forward to adopt the baby. But she is unprepared for what it means to be a white mother with a black son. As she soon learns, navigating motherhood for her is a matter of learning how to raise two children whom she loves with equal ferocity, but whom the world is determined to treat differently.

Written with the warmth and psychological acuity that defined his debut, Rumaan Alam has crafted a remarkable novel about the lives we choose, and the lives that are chosen for us.

Title:That Kind Of Mother: A NovelFormat:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.01 inPublished:May 8, 2018Publisher:HarperCollinsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0062667602

ISBN - 13:9780062667601

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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Okay at best. This book was okay at best for me. I found the writing to be too pretentious, and while I know that literary fiction usually has this "prettier" type of writing that I'm not a huge fan of, it generally adds to the story at least, and makes you appreciate the turns of phrases that the author uses - not the case here. I felt that the flowery writing actually hampered the flow of the story significantly, and left me confused and frankly, doing a lot of skimming. I also wish that the major events in the story were discussed a little bit (a lot) more, rather than one sentence on a major event and multiple pages on the characters' "poetic" thoughts.
Date published: 2018-08-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from If not “that kind”, then what kind? It’s not surprising that Celeste Ng blurbed this book. Superficially, at least, Rumaan Alam is concerned with many of same issues as Ng and his novel has some of the same features as her recent <i><b>Little Fires Everywhere</i></b>: tensions within a privileged upwardly mobile family, interracial relations and adoption, motherhood, female creativity and ambition. However, Ng’s work is a far more symphonic one than Alam’s: many angles are presented; multiple voices are heard, and there is a far more complex plot. <i><b>That Kind of Mother</i></b>, on the other hand, has a single focus: Rebecca Stone, a character with an extraordinary fixation on herself. Everything that happens in Alam’s novel is filtered through her. Characters are always depicted in relation to her; there are no chapters or even sections of chapters from the points of view of others. The issues that are raised appear to be less important in themselves than as tools the author can use to expose his protagonist’s narcissism. Alam’s novel begins in a Maryland hospital in the mid-1980s. Rebecca is in her early thirties and in labour. (The then fairly recent birth of England’s Prince Harry in 1984 is an early—and, we later learn, fairly significant—reference point in a novel which will span several years.) After the arrival of her son and while still on the maternity ward, Rebecca, as a first-time mother, receives instruction on how to breastfeed her son. Priscilla, a warm and encouraging black woman in her early forties, is the coach. Priscilla’s calm manner and her apparent unconditional positive regard for the younger woman intoxicate Rebecca, who soon engages her as a nanny. It’s not Rebecca who pays Priscilla’s generous wages. (Rebecca has no money, and before marriage relied on the financial generosity of her parents). No, it is her British diplomat husband, Christopher, who foots the bill. Nevertheless, Rebecca basks in the Lady Bountiful role. The fact that Priscilla’s 25-year-old daughter, Cheryl, a nurse, had gone to some trouble to get her mother the maternity coaching job doesn’t even register with Rebecca. Her own need for a nanny is paramount. She needs “alone time” to get on with the serious business of being a poet. Yes, a poet. In the early days of Priscilla’s employment, however, the now-liberated Rebecca does little writing. She sequesters herself in her office only to look at fashion magazines, rearrange her desk, and daydream. Rebecca fancies herself a progressive liberal, sensitive to issues of race. She tells herself that she considers, and indeed treats, Priscilla as a full member of the family. She lunches and talks with the nanny, and she invites her to birthday parties and family celebrations. She is appalled when her elderly mother-in-law treats and later refers to Priscilla as a servant, and is entirely unaware of the ways in which her own behaviour casts her “almost friend” in the role of a discreet and deferent mammy, who wouldn’t dare pass judgement on her mistress. Just when all seems to be going smoothly, with Rebecca “in the zone”, feeling more psychologically secure than she ever has and beginning to produce some poetry, Priscilla makes a surprising announcement: she is pregnant. (She had been 17 and single when she had Cheryl 25 years before.) Priscilla continues to work for Rebecca, but then dies suddenly immediately after giving birth to a son. Recently married and soon to give birth herself, Cheryl is relieved when Rebecca offers to take care of her infant half-brother, Andrew. What begins as a temporary arrangement turns into a permanent one: legal adoption. Christopher attempts to raise objections to the plan; he demonstrates a willingness to provide Cheryl with some financial support so that she and Ian, her husband, can raise Andrew with their own daughter. But Rebecca gets what Rebecca wants: Andrew. Why exactly she wants him is not initially clear—at least it wasn’t to me. However, it becomes evident that Rebecca models herself after Princess Diana, whom she regards as a glamorous elder sister, a role model of sorts, committed to good works. She imagines that the two have a mystical connection. Both have older, emotionally detached husbands, and now, with the adoption of Andrew, Rebecca (like Diana) has two sons. Ever sensitive to the reactions of others (worried that her own mother dislikes her, that Cheryl is unimpressed by her person, and, later, that her editor finds her uninteresting) in this case, Rebecca allows herself to believe that the act of adopting a black child has brought her “a sort of fame” and that the parents at the Montessori school “admire” her and regard her as “a legend”. Rebecca’s enlightenment and good works will ultimately extend to exposing Andrew to Bill Cosby’s TV show, books about Martin Luther King Jr., and the music of Michael Jackson. Much of <i><b>That Kind of Mother</i></b> focuses on the interactions between Rebecca’s and Cheryl’s families, who maintain fairly close, but hardly intimate, contact. Rebecca is incapable of intimacy—“people did not interest her”—and as Cheryl angrily points out, Rebecca also doesn’t listen. “You think I’m an extension of you,” she tells her angrily. “A character in your world, a supporting role. It’s not fair. I’m not that, I’m a person, your son’s sister. Your friend, sort of.” Rebecca accepts no guidance from Cheryl and Ian about the significant challenges Andrew will face as a black youth. She is offended when his fourth-grade teacher observes that he is disruptive and appears to suffer from “a maturity gap” (apparently he’s not unlike his adoptive mother in this regard). Rebecca is similarly blind to her husband’s needs and the work he does to fund a life in which she lacks for nothing. Their marriage, which to her resembles a performance for which she cannot remember her lines or a party at which small talk is required, not surprisingly fails— shortly after Charles and Diana’s does. For Rebecca, reality never quite meets the promise of fantasy. As for her professional life: the prestige of being a prize-winning, celebrated poet is of far greater importance than the creative work itself: the thinking and writing and playing with words. In the end, it is hard to know quite what to make of Alam’s book. The issues raised in it—about interracial adoption, the abusive treatment of African Americans by police, the naïve (essentially self-serving) do-gooder-ism of the liberal well-to-do class—are pretty obvious ones. They’ve been done before. Alam’s characters are somewhat flat, and their dialogue is occasionally wooden. Perhaps the biggest problem of all, though, is that it’s almost impossible to imagine a person with Rebecca’s qualities being a poet. Throughout the book, various characters comment on her “optimism”, but it’s hard for a reader to regard her as anything but sheltered, shallow, and naïve—possibly mentally ill (at one point, she has a conversation—or hallucinated exchange—with Lady Di), and maybe just stupid and annoying. Is it possible for a writer to interest readers in a protagonist who is so remarkably self-involved? Does the frustration of other characters with her self-centredness constitute adequate tension to keep a reader interested for 300-plus pages? Can a novel actually work if the protagonist undergoes no real change—is, in fact, incapable of change? I’m not sure. What I can say is that this is a puzzling and unusual book, which is not about what it at first seems to be about. That’s a kind of accomplishment—even if an inadvertent one. Rebecca doesn’t want to be “that kind of mother”, the kind that talks endlessly about and lives through her children. In this she succeeds: she <i> is</i> another kind of mother—a narcissistic one who has created or adopted children to be her hoped-for future audience. She imagines them coming back as men and marvelling at at all she has done.
Date published: 2018-07-19

Editorial Reviews

“Alam proves he is a writer brave and empathetic enough not only to look at life from the perspective of another gender and era, but also to boldly dive in and explore controversial topics...Alam cements his status as that kind of writer: insightful, intrepid, and truly impressive.”