Zoje Stage is a vital part of the fiction community. Her books contain seemingly domestic mysteries, but contain just enough delicious weirdness to fit comfortably into the horror category. Mothered, Stage’s pandemic novel, is her most disorientating yet, and captures the uncertainty and strangeness of the period that many would rather forget. 

Hairstylist Grace finds herself indefinitely unemployed when COVID-19 brings the world grinding to a halt. Struggling to pay her mortgage, Grace reluctantly welcomes her widowed mother, Jackie, into her home. Things quickly go awry, and Grace is reminded of her traumatic childhood, and her dead sister, Hope. And the lack of peace in her house means Grace can no longer commit much time to her strange hobby; catfishing women online. 

So many things happen in this book, and the reader is never fully on safe ground. Grace had a difficult childhood, caring for her unwell sister, and navigating a life with a physically and emotionally absent mother. So her uneasy reunion with Jackie brings up a lot of unresolved issues, and it is unclear what is real and what is not. A lot of the novel recounts Grace’s nightmares, and the whole book has an erratic, dreamlike feel. 

I think the reader will decide within the first chapter whether they will enjoy this book or not. This was not an easy read, it made me feel very claustrophobic, which is a testament to Stage’s writing. Mothered is intriguing, and offers no easy conclusions or answers. 

Mothered is available now everywhere! Zoje Stage’s other novels are amazing too, and you should check those out.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer for the ARC.

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