Jennifer Woodworth’s newest book, How I Kiss Her Turning Head, which is just out by Monkey Puzzle Press, is a most gentle jaunt into the genre of Maternal Horror. ‘Maternal Horror’ is a term I have had to coin myself. But this is not Rosemary’s Baby. This is the Brahms Lullaby of Xtreme Mothering. The baby and child in these stories and sketches comprise a wonderful blessing – so wonderful, that we follow our first person hero as if pushing off down the pipe of some Xtreme Sport … Right down the rabbit hole of maternal instinct, without time to say, “Hello! Goodbye!” into a sort of mental ward where the ordinary and quotidian prerogatives of life conflict to our first person narrator’s charming wonderment. And off we go, as the book paints a gentle rebellion for two.
“I have never wanted anything more than I want babies.” The narrator tells us at the beginning of the first and best story, “Mother of One”. And shortly she adds:
“I want another baby,” I say to my husband.”
“I know you do,” he says. He means he does not want another child, not now, not ever.”
How charged and compact that exchange is!
Our author knows a subtext, and next to that, a rebellious flight of words. All of this makes for a good read. Her stories churn in the updraft of a contained conflagration. Her words and flights of fancy are cloaked like actors to carry more romantic weight. But all of the ducks here are rubber ducks. Her first person narrator “contains multitudes” of insight, but all from an idea fixee. Her first person narrator is entirely rational aside from being mostly fixated. Imagine an Asperger of mothering, with the soft voice, and gentle nudging of the genuinely aware – and you’ll be getting close to the voice of this narrator.
The interest of the first story, “Mother of One” – which is a lovely jolt of maternal compulsion – is deciding partly where the horror lies. Is the Surrogate Mother, or is the Outsourcing Birth Mother the monster of this tale. Is it the narrator’s world which is a bit off kilter – or is it the narrator? The ending tale finds our heroine legally confined but still rebellious. Though it wouldn’t surprise me to hear our narrator reply from her ward – in an attractive way and with an appealing tone, (or perhaps she would just ‘suggest’), if asked, ‘how it could be “rebelling” when the world is backaswards?’.
Jennifer Woodworth has a playful dramatic sense, writes a fine narrative, composes a lovely tune with her words, and is smart enough to say things worth reading. This is a small book to purchase and enjoy, and possibly to start your collection with.