REVIEW: Brit Bennett Reading

And the prodigal son returns. Well, not exactly, but that sense of coming home was prevalent throughout the reading. After all, Brit Bennett graduated with an MFA from the University of Michigan only a short time ago. In fact, the Literati staff member who introduced Brit Bennett talked about reading a draft of this novel two years ago. It was a rather personal–and proud–introduction.

Brit Bennett read two sections from her debut novel, The Mothers. The first of these followed Nadia, the girl whose abortion the novel centers on, as she goes to college–at the University of Michigan, of course. The section is prefaced by the unified voices of the mothers–part of what makes the novel so unique–as they talk about how “we tried to love the world,” but this love was beaten out of them by life’s cruelties. Then we are following Nadia as she attempts to navigate university, Ann Arbor, and Michigan winters (Nadia is from California). Bennett threw a lot of criticisms at Ann Arbor and the people in it, the pseudo-liberals who preach tolerance but practice none–I’d call the choice of reading this section bold if it wasn’t for the fact that being the pseudo-liberals they are, Ann Arbor residents love criticism of themselves. They eat it up. After all, such criticisms are always talking about other residents, never themselves–but that’s beside the point. I found this section to be particularly truthful, especially when it talked about how “maybe if you had come from some farm town, it seemed [liberal and perfect]” (as someone who did come from “some farm town” Ann Arbor did it seem like a liberal utopia for a while). But, of course, this section wasn’t just her bashing this city–it was also filled with beautiful lines about Nadia and how she was handling her world. One of these was “this would be her life: accomplishing the things her mother had never done” (for context, Nadia’s mother died before the novel took place). This part demonstrated Bennett’s ability to create a sense of place and to show how her characters develop in it.

The next section focused on Luke, the pastor’s son who was the father of Nadia’s fetus, as he lived his life back in California after she left. The scene placed him at a barbecue with his fellow semi-pro football players and their wives and families–with Luke alone. I found this section less entrancing than the previous one, but one of the things Bennett talked about afterwards in her conversation made it more appealing to me. Towards the end of this section, Luke thinks about the abortion Nadia had and Bennett discussed how she had to imagine how a young man might feel about that because the issue to her seemed so squarely located in the body of the woman. This ability to inhabit another character’s skin, even when you don’t believe the things that character believes, is a great talent of Bennett’s and showcased throughout the book.

Then there was the conversation with Chris McCormick. This conversation was particularly interesting because McCormick had been her classmate in her MFA program–he had read multiple drafts of this book and even given her suggestions (some of which she incorporated). The conversation was thus tuned to the craft elements of the work, the description of how this book came to be (as she’d been working on this book for 7 years, there was a lot of material to foster this talk). One such thing discussed was why Nadia came to Ann Arbor. Originally, Nadia was supposed to go to school in Florida, but eventually it became clear that she needed more of a culture shock–she needed seasons, and most of all, she needed winter. This character was too self-assured, too able to handle things–Bennett needed to get her out of her comfort zone, and as she herself was studying at this university, Ann Arbor was the intuitive choice. Another thing discussed was how Bennett was interested in the aftermath–like I mentioned, Nadia’s mother dies before the book takes place and her abortion, one of the central plots of the book, occurs early on. This isn’t a book about her abortion per se, but about the aftermath of the abortion. Bennett thought this story would be more compact, but eventually she realized that it was longer and more expansive than it seemed at the surface.

Overall, it was an excellent reading. The Mothers is already receiving lots of buzz and attention from critics and I look forward to seeing how far Brit Bennett will go.

The line for the signing after the reading.
The line for the signing after the reading.


KJ is a junior studying Mathematics and Creative Writing. She is entangled in the library system and desperate to break free. Her free time is spent staring at a wall. She felt obliged to write this bio.

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