Helen Phillips sheds light on the comedy and horror of new parenthood in 'The Need'

Title: The Need
Author: Helen Phillips
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Length: 272 p
Publishing Date9 July 2019

“If she hadn’t been passing through the hall at that exact instant, she would have missed it: the lid of the coffee-table-toy-chest lifting up a centimeter and then immediately, gently, sinking back down.

— Helen Phillips, The Need

Molly is home alone with her four-year-old and newborn when she’s sure she hears it: someone inside her house. Shaking it off, she tries to convince herself that it’s just sleep deprivation and weird things happening at work that are making her extra jumpy. Maybe there were more to those death threats than anybody thought. Or maybe Molly is just losing her mind.

On the surface, The Need by Helen Phillips is a story about the anxieties of parenthood. Yet, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that Molly is working hard to maintain the other aspects of herself, trying not to let the identity of mother engulf her completely. Perhaps there’s something wrong with this, perhaps there isn’t; Phillips isn’t here to argue that. What she does draw attention to is the pressure of having to do it all, to be everything — to be perfect — on complete physical and mental exhaustion. If Molly can’t even trust herself with her children right now, how can she expect to be able to trust anyone else? Trust what’s real and what’s not?

It had always seemed a bit deceitful to Molly, the way we put our children to bed in soft pajamas, give them milk, read them books, locate their stuffed creatures, tell them all is well, there’s nothing to be scared of, as though sleep isn’t one-sixteenth of death.

— Helen Phillips, The Need

Speculative and lyrical, The Need by Helen Phillips is a thought-provoking look into the terrors of motherhood and womanhood with an ending I never saw coming. A must-read for fans of The Dreamers by Karen Thomspon Walker and The Farm by Joanne Ramos.

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