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It is hard to explain what drew me to Rachel Yoder’s novel – the title, the cover, or the promise of transformation? It is possibly a bit of all three. While the novel talks about motherhood’s effect on women and the household, it is more than just a story of becoming a mother. It also feels like it is a story about feminine rage and anger. It also explores what happens to people when life-altering events like having a child change not just how but who they are.
Nightbitch is the title of the novel and also the name of the main protagonist. She earns this name after talking to her husband about this feeling that she has, that she is slowly becoming some sort of canine. Hair starts to grow all over her body, and she notices extra nipples appear on her stomach. She craves meat, raw bloody meat. And her son seems to be slowly transforming, too – he is a rambunctious puppy who loves to bark and play.
Actually, if you thought about it, it really wasn’t fair to call her a night bitch. Such a gendered slur didn’t account for the fact that she had made a boy with her own body, nurtured his multiplying cells for months and months to her own detriment, to her own fatness, to the delince of her youthful sex appeal, which wasn’t supposed to matter.Nightbitch p. 29
Her husband has a job that requires him to travel throughout the week, leaving her alone to look after her son and the house, “In such moments, she could almost touch her loneliness, as if it were her second child.” He comes home on the weekend, where he does performative care for their son and then leaves her again on Monday. Nightbitch’s resentment for her husband is palpable throughout the novel. And even though her relationship improves in some ways and deteriorates in others, I almost wished the protagonist would have left him, or at least bit him.
Yoder’s novel is a meditation on what it means to be a mother and a woman today. And the protagonist struggles between the push and pull of society, telling her what she wants and needs and what she actually wants and needs to be a successful mother, wife, and woman.
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When the protagonist turns into Nightbitch she is free. She can, “at least for an afternoon, […] just be.” The rage expressed throughout the novel, whether it is Nightbitch walking on broken glass, killing a rabbit, or gutting the family cat, might seem extreme and violent. Yet, there was a part of me that got it. That rage can sometimes take over your body – where if you were to let it out, you might burn the whole world down.
The magical realism throughout Yoder’s novel is what makes it truly beautiful and artfully done. It posits and answers the question, What would happen if I let all this rage out?
How many generations of women had delayed their greatness only to have time extinguish it completely? How many women had run out of time while the men didn’t know to do with theirs? And what a mean trick to call such things holy or selfless. How evil to praise women for giving up each and every dream.Nightbitch p. 161
This book is definitely not for the fainthearted and definitely not a book if you have concerns about animal death and consumption. But I truly loved so much of this novel. I think that major events like the start of a new life or the loss of life create cataclysmic changes in people, and yet we are often expected to pretend that nothing has changed and that life will just go on as it did before.
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Please let me know if you end up reading Nightbitch. I would love to know what you think. I am looking forward to finding more magic realism novels in the future too. As always, share the reading love.