Marrying the sharp insights of Jenny Offill with the dark humor of Maria Semple, Motherest is an inventive and moving coming-of-age novel that captures the pain of fractured family life, the heat of new love, and the particular magic of the female friendship -- all through the lens of a fraying daughter-mother bond.
It's the early 1990s, and Agnes is running out of people she can count on. A new college student, she is caught between the broken home she leaves behind and the wilderness of campus life. What she needs most is her mother, who has seemingly disappeared, and her brother, who left the family tragically a few years prior.
As Agnes falls into new romance, mines female friendships for intimacy, and struggles to find her footing, she writes letters to her mother, both to conjure a closeness they never had and to try to translate her experiences to herself. When she finds out she is pregnant, Agnes begins to contend with what it means to be a mother and, in some ways, what it means to be your own mother.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Kristen Iskandrian’s portrait of a confused young woman sucks you in thanks to the refreshing voice of its college-age heroine. Agnes has a lot on her plate: a missing mother and grieving father, an intense new romantic relationship, and one giant curveball. Throughout her journey, Agnes writes funny, angry, tender, and sad letters to her mom, who left home and hasn’t been heard from for about a year. We related to Agnes’ struggle to feel at home in the world and to Iskandrian’s vivacious depiction of female friendship.
Iskandrian's stellar first novel is set in the early '90s, as college freshman Agnes, adjusting to life away from home, learns her mother has left her father. As a coping mechanism, she begins writing letters to the absent woman, though she has no idea where her mother is and cannot mail them. Each letter is a kind of journal entry that reveals her intimate moments: sexual encounters, drunken revelry, and lingering thoughts about her older brother, Simon, who committed suicide three years earlier. These letters continue after Agnes becomes pregnant by her Nirvana-obsessed ex and moves back home for the summer. Agnes and her father wade into the mystery of pregnancy together, complete with visits to the local clinic and meetings for single mothers, and their relationship wavers as Agnes's due date approaches and they cope with the empty spaces left by Agnes's mother and Simon. Iskandrian's debut is sharp and honest, recounting Agnes's journey in a crafty mix of first-person narration and epistolary forms, and Agnes's voice charms with a subtle undercurrent of humor and sarcasm making this a delightful and satisfying reading experience. Iskandrian is a writer to watch.