Nature vs. Nurture, and Nature Wins

If you aren’t sure you want to have kids, Audrain’s debut will, at the very least, give you an unhealthy dose of doubt.

The novel opens in the narrator’s perspective. Blythe is sitting in a car on Christmas Eve watching a family through their front window. Blythe’s situation — alone in a cold landscape — is juxtaposed with the idyllic scene inside the home. The children, an adolescent girl and a toddler-age boy, wear matching pajamas; the husband slow dances with his wife; there is a plate of cookies for Santa Claus. It is immediately obvious — because Blythe’s narration is a second-person letter drafted to Fox, her ex-husband and the man in the living room — that this family, or a version of it, once belonged to Blythe. At one point, in the midst of the festivities, the daughter notices Blythe; she makes eye contact from the window but doesn’t mention Blythe’s presence to anyone else. The exchange feels sinister, and introduces the novel’s central question: What happened — why is Blythe on the outside looking in?

From page one of The Push, I was waiting for it, “it” being the thing that would make this story anything other than a straight-up reboot of The Bad Seed.

But it never happens. There is no twist. Ostensibly, Etta’s and Cecilia’s story arcs are meant to destabilize Blythe’s character in the reader’s mind, to make the reader question the reliability of the narrator. But if Audrain wanted me to wonder whether Violet was evil, or whether Blythe was just too damaged by her lineage to love Violet appropriately, I never really did.

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Wynter K Miller

Wynter K Miller

Wynter K Miller is an editor and writer in California. @wynterkm