The cover of The Push against a collaged background of purple clouds and a pink swingset

What did you make of it? The Push by Ashley Audrain. Image: Rebecca Hendin for Penguin


If you’re here, chances are you’ve read The Push, the incendiary debut novel from Ashley Audrain. If you’ve not, you may want to: there are spoilers ahead.

Audrain’s concept is simple, but nevertheless daring in how far it pushes some of our deepest fears: what if our children don’t love us back, what if we’re creating monsters, what happens when our dearly held versions of the truth are questioned?

Judging by how The Push has ignited message boards of readers online and, we’ve no doubt, got people chatting in their book groups, we’re not alone in having a desperate need to chat about the book we so feverishly engulfed. So we put our questions to Audrain herself: here is what she had to say.

Is Blythe a reliable narrator?

I don’t know if I can answer that without giving too much away! My hope is that readers are trying to answer this question for themselves as they read. The Push is written from the point of view of Blythe, who is telling her side of this story specifically to her husband, Fox. It’s quite an intimate, narrow perspective – I wanted the reader to feel right in the middle of their marriage. Because of this, I think it’s fair the reader would question her reliability – is she trying to convince him of something? Are resentment and defensiveness clouding the truth? It’s certainly true in life that we each have our own biased lens through which we understand one another, an event, or a relationship.

Was Violet evil?

Again, I’d hate to give too much away with this answer, and readers may have their own interpretation of Violet and what she is ultimately responsible for. We are, of course, so extremely uncomfortable with the idea of a child having the emotional ability to commit an ‘evil’ act – but of course, some children do. I was very interested in exploring the idea of a mother who suspects her child is capable of something unthinkable, or unforgiveable. Do we always have unconditional love for a child? What would threaten that? How would that feel as a mother?

What legacy did Blythe’s mother and grandmother leave?

Blythe’s mother, Cecilia, tells Blythe when she’s young: “the women in this family, we’re different.” This weighs heavily on Blythe as a young woman, this knowledge that her own mother and grandmother struggled greatly with motherhood. Blythe experiences this firsthand, of course, with a mother who abandons her and isn’t capable of the kind of love and mothering that Blythe craves. She questions whether she’s capable of being different – if she knows how to be a mother, how to nurture, how to find connection, or if she’s inherited this same dark, maternal anxiety that she’ll pass along to her own daughter, too. There is a legacy of trauma for the mothers in this family, and Blythe isn’t sure she can escape this, no matter how much she tries. And motherhood is hard enough without this devastating burden to carry, isn’t it?

Was Fox manipulative?

Certainly, he’s very manipulative, and he gaslights Blythe when her truth becomes inconvenient for him as a husband and a father. He feels owed a certain kind of mother for his child. He’s a hard character to defend, and there are a lot of strong feelings from readers about him, but I think we can, on some level, understand why Fox is the way he is. We meet Helen, his mother, and we see the kind of household and family he grew up with. In the same way that society has placed expectations on Blythe about the way motherhood should look and feel, I think the same is true for Fox – and perhaps a lot of men, who would admit they don’t have a fair understanding of what motherhood is really like.

What role does grief play?

The grief Blythe experiences is a tipping point for her, in a way. There’s a line in the book where Blythe says she needs to be in the dark, and she feels owed the dark. Here, we finally see Blythe sit with the kind of pain she’s been avoiding since she was a young girl, and certainly since she became a mother. In the cloud of this grief, she allows herself to become saturated in the difficult feelings about herself and her daughter that she’s fought for so long. Perhaps she even finds a sense of validation for the first time. Her tone with Violet and Fox changes dramatically after this; she’s more defiant, she finds her backbone, in a way. So the grief, while devastating, is quite pivotal in Blythe’s journey.

 

What did you think of this article? Email editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk and let us know.

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