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"Perhaps it was the sleep deprivation, but I envisioned us — a relative group of strangers — as a tribe of women who had banded together, and the question occurred to me: what if, god forbid, one of our babies went missing?"
You might not think an online, email list intended for new mothers would be the place for a novel to arise. However, this experienced combined with the dreaded thought above led to Aimee Molloy's first novel. A group of mothers meets weekly in Prospect Park, Brooklyn to share in the burden of motherhood. One night, they decide to go out for a drink. It is meant to be a night of fun but results in one of the babies in the group going missing. The police become involved and the mothers are all questioned about the events of the night, allowing for secrets, friendships, and marriages all to be put to the test over the course of thirteen days.
Aimee spoke with us about making the switch from nonfiction to fiction in her writing and some of the other thoughts she had about the suspense genre concerning women. You will also get a taste at what she has planned for her second novel. Read the complete interview below.
How did you become interested in writing?
Like probably all writers, I became interested in writing by first being interested in reading. I was a voracious reader as a child, and was always grateful to the librarians at the West Seneca public library outside of Buffalo, New York for looking the other way when I took out more than the allowed number of books. My first foray into writing happened when I was around ten. My father is an attorney and I created a character named Doris Connors. She had a lot of legal problems and I used to write letters to my dad, as Doris, seeking all sorts of legal advice. I can still picture myself in the back room of my house, clicking away at our old typewriter, inhabiting Doris’s world, telling her stories.
You co-wrote two previous books of nonfiction with Molly Melching and Pam Cope. How did those projects come to pass and why did you feel compelled to help in telling their unique stories?
I’ve actually co-written several books. For the past decade, before turning to fiction, I made a living writing non-fiction books — under my own name, as a collaborator, and as a ghostwriter. In 2014, I published However Long the Night about Molly Melching’s work bringing education to the villages of Senegal. Jantsen’s Gift, which I wrote with Pam Cope five years earlier, is about Pam’s work with kids sold into slavery in Ghana. Both of these books are about seemingly ordinary women living extraordinary lives and I was able to travel extensively with both Molly and Pam, seeing the work they’re doing first hand. To be honest, I’ll always feel it was a true privilege to do this kind of work; to pay witness to the lives they were leading and translate their stories for readers.
Your most recent book is The Perfect Mother. Why were you inspired to write it?
After my first daughter was born in 2013, I signed up for a new mom’s group in Brooklyn. I was a little skeptical about this at first (a new mom’s group in Brooklyn? Far too cliché for me!) but the skepticism dissolved almost immediately. I had no family around to help, and very little experience with infants, and September Babies became my lifeline. Though some members met in person, most of our interaction was via a listserve — a place where people asked questions (is this normal…? Should I be worried…? Will they ever sleep?). I was blown away by the generosity and encouragement the members showed one another. Perhaps it was the sleep deprivation, but I envisioned us — a relative group of strangers — as a tribe of women who had banded together, and the question occurred to me: what if, god forbid, one of our babies went missing? I could see the members of the group, black war paint under our eyes, torches in hand, combing the town until the baby was found. I remember I was riding the subway, my daughter strapped to my chest, and pulling out a notebook, jotting down notes on this idea. A few years later, those notes had become The Perfect Mother.
This is your first novel. Did you face any challenges in this first, major fiction writing project?
A few. For one, I had no idea what I was doing. Second, I had no idea if what I was writing was good or pure crap. Third, I had no reason to believe an agent would want to represent the book, or a publisher would want to publish it. After an agent and publisher said they would, I then had no idea if any reader would ever want to read it. This, it turns out is what it means to write a novel. (I’m in the midst of writing my second novel and I’m still asking those questions.)
Photo Credit: Nina Subin
Some readers have labeled the novel as a suspense book. Do you agree with this genre label?
Yes, I do. It was my intention to write a book in this genre, in fact. For about a year, I thought about how I would approach a novel on motherhood. Initially, I thought I wanted to write something more literary — I absolutely loved Dept. of Speculation and Eleven Hours — gorgeous, weighty books about motherhood. And then, after my second daughter was born, I read Gone Girl, most of it with her on my lap. That book brought me back to reading, and reminded me just how pleasurable it can be to escape into a book. It also sparked the idea of wrapping a book about motherhood in a page-turning novel of suspense. The idea really excited me — so much so that I finally stopped thinking about it and sat down and started typing.
When a baby goes missing in the book, a major media reaction is shown, adding a heightened sense of realism. Did you take into account the way real media reacts to these situations when writing?
Yes, I did spend some time looking at how certain members of the media reacted to missing persons cases in general and in doing so, I came across the phrase “missing white woman syndrome”. Coined by Gwen Ifill, the late, brilliant PBS anchor, it refers to the media’s fascination with reporting stories of missing white women — think Natalee Holloway and JonBenet Ramsey — compared to when the victim is a person of color. It’s really quite disturbing, the more you delve into this. A 2017 study found that white women were much more likely to be the subject of intense news coverage relative to their proportions among missing persons — often presented in the age-old “damsel in distress” narrative. While it’s a baby that goes missing in the book, of course, and not a woman, I did want to explore the forces at play behind this idea. I remain interested in this disparity and in fact, I return to it a little more fully in my second novel — what happens when it’s a man that goes missing.
The question of motherhood and behaviors of mother are scrutinized throughout the plot. Do you think this speaks to the way women are looked at in society and the pressures that come with parenthood for women?
I hope so, as the constant scrutiny women fall under after having a child is one of the reasons I wanted to write this book. There’s a character in the book named Patricia Faith. She is the host of a cable news program and she becomes obsessed with what happened to baby Midas, who is taken from his crib while his mom is out for drinks with her mom group. Patricia Faith is particularly concerned with the behavior of the mothers. Should mothers of newborns really be out drinking? After a photograph surfaces of the group that night, in which Midas’s mother and another mom appear drunk, the scrutiny increases. To be honest, Patricia Faith was one of the most interesting characters for me to write. She is very much a composite of all the judgment that women often feel after having kids — from the internet, baby books, other parents, etc. — and all the pressure put on us to live up to society’s ideas of what being a mother means.
What do you think about the future for women writers and stories surrounding female characters?
I think women are on the cusp of finally taking over the world — writing and otherwise — and nothing excites me more.
Follow Aimee Molloy on Twitter and Instagram. The Perfect Mother is available now from HarperCollins.
Rachel A.G. Gilman is the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Creature.