Animal Instincts: Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

OK, this was weird for me.

If someone asked me to describe Rachel Yoder’s “Nightbitch” in a single word, I’d say “arty.” The story of an artist-turned-mother-turned-dog-turned-performance-artist is in itself a piece of performance art. Novels like these are interesting to me in that while I may struggle with the plot, I still enjoy the journey. And this one was strange, indeed.

Yoder’s protagonist, Nightbitch, is a young married mother raising her toddler/preschool-ish son in what feels like a Midwestern college town. The mother’s husband travels for business and is away all week long, leaving her alone in and in charge of their child’s wellbeing from Monday morning through Friday night. And it’s this absence that plays into the fact that he can alternately ignore or be appalled by what feels like the mother’s slow descent into a nervous breakdown — or an epic piece of stage art. To each reader their own.

Is the mother suffering from postpartum depression? Is she just lonely? Maybe being a mother isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be for her? All I know is that her transition from first page to last had me yelling, out loud, at the pages, “What the fuck is wrong with you?!?!” which, may be the intent of the author — to pull all of us, the readers, into the performance art along with the characters in the book. It’s not the first time the mother has heard that, for sure. Her behavior is strange, at best, delusional, at worst, both incredibly violent and sensual, deeply caring at times and completely unempathetic at others.

I imagine the narrative is going to resonate to a degree with just about any mom — I admit that it was a rough start for me because my initial reaction was, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, been there, done that, and I might be nodding in agreement more if this was on my bookshelf 20 years ago.” I remember those endless nights of trying to get kids to bathe and to bed, of making breakfasts, lunches and dinners to little fanfare, our library’s version of Book Babies and being certain every other mother had their shit together while I, myself, did not. But hear me, Nightbitch, when I say it’s a transient state. You DO NOT HAVE TO ST*B YOUR ***!!!

Motherhood. So much oof. So much.

For as much as the mother and her alter ego bothered me, I also can appreciate the strong visceral reaction for what it is, which is immensely compelling writing. It’s no wonder Nightbitch found its way onto many, many “Must Read” lists last year. It’s quite literally, literary performance art. Take your time with this and savor the story. It’s a strange one.

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