book review: Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

NIGHTBITCH by Rachel Yoder
Doubleday, 2021

This should have been a short story. I can’t sit here and say that Nightbitch is an entirely unsuccessful project, because I think it does in fact accomplish exactly what it sets out to do — I just found my patience for it wearing thin the longer I spent with it. 

I’ve expressed my personal disinterest in books about motherhood before, so I always knew this book was going to be a bit of a gamble for me, but I had hopes that it would be a bit more “disaster woman who happens to be a mother,” rather than “mother who happens to be a disaster.” That wasn’t a problem, in and of itself — when it became clear to me how little my own vision for this novel overlapped with Rachel Yoder’s, I course-corrected my expectations as best I could. And I actually came to appreciate the relentless, brutally honest depiction of a young woman’s inability to cope with the demands of motherhood. This book is visceral and furious, and Yoder gets her claws into the reader.

But the longer it goes on, and the more the magical realism slant starts to take over, the more its impact starts to wane. For something so graphic and carnal, this book ironically has very little meat on its bones; it never justifies its length, its metaphors all wear themselves out — it says absolutely everything it has to say, and then it keeps going. And going. And going. It’s not even a very long book, only around 250 pages, but it isn’t able to sustain even that. Any appreciation I had for this book’s themes became eclipsed by my frustration at Yoder’s insistence at presenting this to the world as a novel, instead of what I think could have been a punchy and memorable piece of short fiction. Instead, I haven’t thought about this book once since I finished it.

Thank you to Netgalley and Doubleday for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.