Aimee Molloy’s ‘The Perfect Mother’ Shines in Its Social Commentary

Molloy pens a gripping psychological thriller while critiquing the pressures of modern motherhood.

The Perfect Mother
Aimee Molloy
Harper Collins
May 2018

The Perfect Mother is Aimee Molloy’s thrilling debut novel. She is a New York Times best-selling author for non-fiction but her shift to fiction is praiseworthy. Her highly anticipated new release is riveting. The book’s rights have already been sold for a movie adaptation starring Kerry Washington. Loaded with carefully placed clues and accomplished character development, readers will devour The Perfect Mother.

As a bonus, sharp social commentary runs parallel to the captivating narrative. Molloy adroitly critiques the pressures of modern motherhood that places emphasis on perfection rather than individualism. Molloy used her own experiences as a new mother to authenticate The Perfect Mother. Readers are left wondering if the drama or reality are more terrifying.

The ramifications of a kidnapping reveals the inner psychologies, terrors, and realities of a group of new parents known as the May Mothers. They are mostly composed of women but with the representative stay-at-home Dad irreverently nicknamed Token. The group acts as a support system meant to quell the isolation and anxiety associated with caring for a newborn. Their lives are indelibly connected beyond parenthood when one of the mother’s newborns is kidnapped. False accusations, denial, despondency, and abjection fuel the characters. Molloy expertly develops each character to fully understand their identity as women and mothers.

The Perfect Mother successfully problematizes so many pertinent cultural elements. The title alone prominently sets up a critique of the expectations placed on mothers. Molloy extensively showcases the social, personal, and physical challenges mothers endure. From agonizing about formula or breastfeeding, to curbing employers aggressively side-stepping maternity leave, to finding places to pump, Molloy drafts an authentic look at motherhood. Someone needs to tell the characters, though, about the federal regulations protecting them from pumping in the bathroom. The fact that this law goes unchecked is the stark reality of so many mothers beyond the book’s characters.

Motherhood is often washed in perfection and saccharine malleability. Molloy’s characters refreshingly diverge from this strict and narrow norm. However, the author demonstrates the ubiquity of the dominant narratives meant to reestablish maternal uniformity. Molloy begins each chapter with insipid advice directed towards new mothers. The advice is chronicled by date and includes milestones your baby should meet at that time. For example, day 53, you should stop swaddling your baby because it increases the chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Almost immediately the characters discuss how this advice contradicts their own knowledge base. As such, they are fraught with uncertainty and anxiety. After their choices are maligned, the characters quickly forget that motherhood is a superpower. Social oppression is achieved and Molloy’s point is appreciated.

Molloy’s critique of the media is an equally astute component of The Perfect Mother. She powerfully shows the media’s impact in swaying public opinion regardless of the facts’ accuracy. She adds an interesting racial component when the case’s first person of interest is a new American of Middle Eastern descent. Her depiction of the media is grim: his guilt is assumed based only on his race and status. Molloy portrays a ravenous media’s inability to focus on objectivity while force-feeding endless pathos to their audience. This is epitomized by the character Patricia Faith. Aptly named and a clear jab at right-wing media, she conflates objectivity with moral zealousness. Faith clearly earned her journalistic credentials in the ‘Fake News’ academy. However, Faith has noticeable influence on The Perfect Mother‘s characters regardless of whether they align with or oppose her values. Here Molloy pens a poignant warning: willful ignorance of the pundit’s power is myopic. We now understand this more clearly in the post 2017 election era.

The Perfect Mother shines in its social commentary. Yet it’s less adroit as a thriller. The entire novel is compulsively entertaining and readers will speed through to reach the resolution. Throughout Molloy also plants subtle pieces of evidence that coherently fall into place. This invites rereading to fully understand the intricacies of the plot’s details. Without providing too many spoilers, the actual resolution is disappointing. Molloy relies on gimmicks including cliffhangers or narrative jumps to engage the reader. There are too many easily identifiable red herrings while their connection to the plot seems formulaic. Once the novel ends, the coincidental red herring is laughable. By no means is The Perfect Mother the ideal thriller. But in the sake of subverting perfection, it is enjoyable. That meritoriously stands alone.

Molloy wrote a realistic and gripping thriller. The Perfect Mother tackles ingrained gender norms that situate motherhood as synonymous with perfection. Molloy demonstrates the expectations’ harm and that America lacks a comprehensive supportive system for new families. Essentially, Molloy uses her characters to call society out for smothering parents with unattainable expectations. In doing, so she pens a worthwhile psychological thriller while showcasing mothers’ precarious social positions.

RATING 7 / 10