The romanticized version of new motherhood: Unbridled joy, a cooing newborn and a life’s purpose fulfilled. The truth, of course, is far more complicated and less idyllic. It’s that reality that author Rachel Yoder explores in her fantastic debut novel, Nightbitch.
Yoder’s protagonist is an unnamed woman known only as “the mother.” (This choice seems an intentional way to mimic the ways in which women are stripped of their identities once they create a new life with their bodies.) The mother is an artist who stays at home with her 2-year-old son after quitting her job at a community gallery. Her husband travels every week for work, appearing every weekend without really understanding (or acknowledging) the work that goes into childrearing. As the mother wryly notes, "Her undergraduate degree was from a prestigious university, better than the one he had attended. She held two master’s degrees, whereas he held none. (She also held a baby.)"
Bored, tired and resentful, she begins to feel a little less stuck when she notices a patch of coarse hair growing on her back. Then, it seems like her canine teeth are getting longer and there’s a cyst on her lower back that suspiciously resembles a tail. Is she…turning into a dog? Yes, in fact, she is. Her husband, of course, laughs off her suggestion that she’s becoming, as she calls herself, a Nightbitch. “You always think something’s wrong with you,” he scoffs.
But after a trip to the library during which she finds a book that validates her experience, she realizes she’s not crazy, and has to make a choice: Does she repress these strange new feelings or does she give in to them? She opts for the latter and, for the first time in a long time, starts to find fulfillment in her life. Her son joins as she embraces her animal instincts. The two bond like they never have before—he sleeps easily, licked by his mother and put to bed in a kennel; they bark and wrestle and feast on raw meat together. There’s finally an outlet for the rage and violence she’s repressed for so long. Her eyes are opened to the reality that society, adulthood, marriage and motherhood were designed to put a woman in her place and keep her there.