Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Other Mother

Other Mother

4.2 7
by Gwendolen Gross

See All Formats & Editions

Amanda is a successful book editor at a prominent publishing house in New York City. Thea is a stay-at-home mother of three who has never really left the community in which she grew up. Amanda, eight months’ pregnant with her first child, and her husband move in next door to Thea and her family, and the two women find themselves both drawn to and repelled by


Amanda is a successful book editor at a prominent publishing house in New York City. Thea is a stay-at-home mother of three who has never really left the community in which she grew up. Amanda, eight months’ pregnant with her first child, and her husband move in next door to Thea and her family, and the two women find themselves both drawn to and repelled by each other and their opposing choices in the constant struggle to balance career and family life.

When a disaster forces Amanda and her family to take refuge in Thea’s home, the underlying tensions simmering between them are forced to the surface-and even more so when Thea fills in as Amanda’s temporary nanny. But once dead animals start appearing on Thea’s front porch-surely a macabre gift from Amanda?-the battle with “the other mother” begins in earnest.

With a keen eye for what pulls us apart and what brings us together, Gwendolen Gross has created a stunning, dark, suspenseful novel that is as brave as it is shocking.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Gross's third novel (following Getting Out) documents the front lines of the "Mommy Wars," but its real strength lies in exposing the complex inner battlefields motherhood can open up. Eight months pregnant Amanda, a successful children's book editor and dedicated New Yorker, picks up with her lawyer husband and moves to suburban Teaneck, N.J. Her new neighbor, Thea Caldwell, is a full-time mother of three who still lives in her childhood home and who arrives bearing brownies. When the newcomers take extended shelter in the Caldwells' basement following a damaging storm and, later, when Amanda hires Thea as her newborn's nanny, the growing intimacy between the two breeds resentment, bitterness and misunderstandings. The series of external crises designed to create tension and suspense are, in the end, less compelling than the women's own inner demons, revealed through alternating, and overlapping, first-person narration. Jersey resident Gross shows the strife between SAHMs (Stay at Home Moms) and WOTHs (moms who Work Outside the Home) to be a lot more nuanced than it's often portrayed. (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

While her two previous novels (e.g., Field Guide) featured adventuring women, Gross's new work stays closer to home. The story is told in alternate voices. Stay-at-home mom Thea lives with husband Caius in the house where she grew up. New next-door neighbor Amanda and husband Aaron never expected to find themselves in the suburbs, much less New Jersey, but with their first child on the way they're putting down roots. While Thea spends her days shuttling her school-age children to extracurricular events and trying to keep two-year-old Iris out of trouble, Amanda is planning to return to her publishing job as soon as possible after her daughter's birth. Soon after Malena is born, a tree crashes through her parents' house, and Caius offers the family shelter. This proximity both jumpstarts friendships and propels the neighbors from each other like the north ends of a magnet. Most of the novel stays within the heads of the two women, as they reexamine their own approaches to motherhood while feeling both superior to (and envious of) the choice the other has made. The ending, seemingly awkwardly tagged on, takes place on 9/11. Suddenly, two women who hated each other passionately are making up and hugging in a melodramatic moment that doesn't seem real. For public libraries.
—Debbie Bogenschutz

Kirkus Reviews
Gross (Getting Out, 2002, etc.) pits working mother versus stay-at-home mother in yet another fiction about women's ambivalent struggle to combine work and family. Amanda and her lawyer husband Aaron move from Manhattan to the New Jersey suburbs shortly before their baby Malena is born. When a tree falls on their house during a storm, their neighbor Thea and her rock-solid husband Caius invite them to stay in their house. Grateful for Thea's generous hospitality, Amanda is intimidated by her graceful competence as a housewife and mother. Thea, who has never worked while raising her three children, is jealous and resentful of Amanda for having a new infant to love. Although Amanda senses Thea's disapproval of her decision to return to work as a book editor, desperation drives Amanda to hire Thea as a babysitter. The women distrust each other yet feel drawn toward friendship. One Friday after a near disaster, they share a kiss of affectionate relief that is vaguely sexual. The following Monday, Thea, uncomfortable with the kiss and afraid she's growing overly attached to Malena, quits as babysitter. The women's friendship sours. When dead animals start appearing on Thea's doorstep, she suspects and eventually accuses Amanda. Thea clings to her hostility even after Amanda and Aaron rescue Thea's daughter Carra, who has seriously injured herself while trespassing in their yard. Finally, an Outward Bound trip for Thea, as well as Aaron's close call on 9/11, give Thea and Amanda a sense of perspective. The narration moves back and forth between the two women. Neither recognizes the other's insecurity, each is jealous of the other, but the balance of sympathy is weighted toward neurotic JewishAmanda, who has a sense of humor about her shortcomings that uptight Episcopalian Thea lacks. Gross gets many emotional details about marriage and the intensity of mother-love right, but she milks her trendy issues to didactic death. Agent: Jennifer Carlson/Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency Inc.

Product Details

Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
File size:
407 KB

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

. 1 .


I had already lost Iris in the Rite Aid. She'd begged and begged to get school supplies, in her sweet-voiced, slightly lisping two-year-old language that unfailingly invites patience on my part just when I'm about to despair of ever managing a simple errand. I told her if she stayed close, she could pick out something, a notebook or a box of crayons, or markers if she promised not to suck the tips to blue her mouth, and we could have some school projects together. But as soon as we got to the store--my son, Oliver, was stepping from one foot to the other without traveling anywhere, and my oldest, Carra, was sorting through the stacks of three-ring-binders as if they'd each delivered a personal insult--Iris slipped into the aisles and was gone.

Rite Aid wasn't the best place to shop for school supplies, but I was too busy to manage a trip to the mall. Carra, who had recently turned twelve and was as serious about middle school as the rest of us had been about enrolling in college, showed her displeasure in every gesture on the way there. Not good enough, said the snap of her seatbelt, no special cartridge-filled fountain pens like her best friend Lizzie had. No rainbow-laser binders, only babyish unicorn decals, her sigh said, as we drove the mile into town. She let out a little grumble of disgust as I parallel parked, badly, leaving my wheels at least eight inches from the curb.

But for some reason I wasn't frustrated with Carra. She was simply navigating the new with her best coping mechanism, disapproval, for guidance. When Carra was first born, and I was deeply in love and in the thick thrall of milky exhaustion, almost like drowning, my friend Tia came to visit. She held Carra and looked into her wrinkled infant face and said, "She'll break your heart when she's a teen."

Oliver wouldn't get anything he needed and would require a separate trip the next day because he forgot "pencils, and oh, a big gummy eraser thing, and Mom, I think I need paper but I don't remember which kind." It wasn't that Oliver was oblivious to everything. At ten he had a very good memory for the books he loved, which characters were in which series, and which movie--his most serious passion besides his bicycle--was coming to the Sylvan Glen Theater. Oliver went to see whatever wasn't rated R, even if it was considered a girl movie or something that featured kissing. It was Oliver who noticed Iris wasn't with us.

"Ma," he said, more interested in the meager shelf of paperbacks and the pipe-and-card aisle than the things he'd need for fifth grade. "Ma, I think Iris went that way." He nodded his head.

I hated the feeling that I'd lost control. With the first two, there had been some chasing, some games of run-away-from-Mommy, but it was long enough ago I'd already forgotten. And Iris was different. She was as wild at one as my others had been at two, and now that she was two, she was uninterested in her mother's suggestions, pleas, and demands, and passionately interested in whatever I didn't want her to have because it might hurt her. She put everything into her mouth, still, long after Dr. Goodberg, in her calm and slightly condescending lecture voice, had told me she would grow out of it.

"I-ris," I called, trying not to let panic spread its wide wings in my chest.

"I-ris," called Oliver, right behind me. He still liked to help, and he still liked to please me. Though Iris's disappearances made him a little too happy in the look-at-me-I'm-being-good department. He'd adjusted well at seven, when he learned he'd have to share his mommy with a small, shrieking person who would probably never be old enough to play with him. Along with his beauty, Oliver was blessed on occasion with dazzlingly clear perceptions. "It's better that she's a girl," he'd said that first week, when I hardly had time to look into his face for Iris's needs. "That way I won't have to be as jealous."

A small cloud of red hair dashed around the corner of the aisle I was entering. I could hear her demonic little laugh. It was funny for a second, but then she wasn't in the next aisle.

"I-ris, I need you to come here now," I said. I could hear the automatic doors hissing open, closed, open, and the high-speed traffic out on Sylvan Avenue made me nervous. My other two had known, somehow, without more than half a dozen didactic lessons on my part, that streets were dangerous. Iris had already run out into our cul-de-sac dancing, and on a previous shopping trip she'd made it off the curb on Sylvan, though I'd grabbed her before she had a chance to take a second step. Iris would go right out those automatic doors, she'd run right out under the wheels of a giant SUV; she'd be a low and unavoidable target. I felt this possibility weighting me, fear unfurling, and started running toward the entrance, pulled by gravity and danger and responsibility.

"Mo-om," called Oliver. "I got her."

I rounded the aisle, but I didn't see them. I had to squeeze by a pair of teens necking in the candy aisle. I thought I recognized my neighbor's daughter, half-mashed, half-wrapped around a young man with straight hair that fell below his angular jaw, but I couldn't stop to really see. I passed the pair and ran toward the entrance, but my children weren't there.

"Mo-om!" Oliver yelled. I could hear Iris's cry. It wasn't an easy cry, it was a loud, angry, word-filled cry, as if she had things she couldn't say in such a state of agitation. Because of the cacophony surrounding her intent, we'd probably never know what she was saying. Often, I was too annoyed to want to know what she was saying. I was a bad mother, already thinking about preschool, wishing she'd been born two months earlier so she could enroll this year. An hour or two of freedom, freedom for both of us, I had told myself when I fingered the brochure from the new Montessori school. This was my last go at raising a toddler. I'd thought I had known what I was doing. Even when I'd told Caius I was pregnant, even when I'd believed I was surprised, part of me had expected this last round all along. But none of me had expected Iris to be the challenge that she was.

"Myma-ahhh!" cried Iris. They stood back near the binders. Iris was clutching two jumbo packs of Pez; maybe she'd have become Sylvan Glen's youngest shoplifter, the poster child for a stop negligent mothers campaign. Oliver triumphantly gripped her arm. Iris was flopping, flailing. His grip was a little harder than necessary, but Iris did try, strenuously, to escape.

And I adored her, my last little one, my jitterbug. Guilt and relief soaked into me. I took my baby in my arms, despite her resistance, despite the bruises her pink-sneakered feet would leave on my thighs where she kicked me. My knees made a sound like gum bubbles popping as I stood. I kissed the top of her head. She let the Pez fall to the floor. I hadn't lost her yet.

"Mine plies," she sobbed.

"I know, your supplies," I said.

"They don't have the right kind," said Carra, looking bereft by the big bin of loose-leaf paper. "We'll have to go to the mall."

Sometimes, when they were all in the car, if Iris was sleeping in her seat and Oliver and Carra were in their private looking-out-the-window worlds, dreaming of things I wasn't sure I wanted to know about, I forgot, for a guilty, delicious moment or two, that I was a mother of three, on errands, the person in charge. Sometimes I was my college self, home for the dregs of summer, relishing the last of languid August, full of the details of my summer jobs and summer crushes and the cicadas starting their song of sex and death in the late afternoons. I slowed down as I neared Tia's old house, remembering the time when she was home, still my best friend, and forecasting our future together: we'd work as raft guides on African rivers, trek in the Himalayas, join sky-top bird studies in the Amazon, meet our mates at bars in Amsterdam, and come home to Sylvan Glen, New Jersey, to raise our broods across the fence from each other, where they could make their own bug collections and later, fall in love.

But the house next door wasn't Tia's anymore; it wasn't even Tia's mother's house. I'd seen the For Sale signs a few months ago and had left three unreturned messages for Tia. Even after the Sale Pending notice went up over the original placard, I'd fantasized about buying it myself so it wouldn't be invaded by strangers. Not that we could afford a second house. I felt as if I'd lost Tia's mother, Phoebe Larkspur, though she'd only moved across the woods to the assisted-care facility. When the Bergen Sunset Home was built five years ago, I'd stood in the cul-de-sac with my neighbors listening to the grand-opening party. Even Jillian Martin emerged, with her suspiciously fraternal-looking husband, Jack, who rarely came out of his house except to push snow around in his drive with a leaf blower and to weed and deadhead his perennial garden with his chain saw. They stood there with their matching narrow foreheads and bitter sucked-lemon expressions. At nine o'clock on a summer weeknight, the polka was so loud it blasted across the maple-and-sassafras-filled woods like a storm. Then the announcer started yelling instructions through his bullhorn, "Walkers on the left! C'mon ladies. Ladies," and Jillian Martin screwed up her sour face and laughed.

"Stupid," muttered Jack. "Stupid old people."

It wasn't as if Mrs. Larkspur had done cartwheels under the pink dogwood on her front lawn, but at least I'd seen her over the back fence sometimes, clasping grocery bags against her chest like little children.

I captained the van into the driveway, Iris asleep after the indignities in the Rite Aid. I gasped a little at the sight next door--almost like driving past a wreck. I hadn't expected new neighbors so soon, and I felt a vague crushing sensation in my chest, tempered by a little hope. They were here already. The moving vans were dribbling the new family's belongings out into the yard like a tree spilling leaves, the only order that of gravity and wind. A huge buffet sat squat under the dogwood, scuffing the soil with its feet. It looked too large and ominous for the open dining room I'd sprinted through a thousand times, playing sardines with Tia and my brother Oren. The lawn was littered with boxes and boxes and boxes marked BOOKS, with letters for alphabetizing added in a cramped scrawl.

I pressed the buttons on the van to release Oliver and Carra, who would get out, be on their own, who wouldn't need me now for a while.

"When can we go to the mall?" Carra asked, but she was already running away from the driveway and toward her friend Vivian Morocco's house.

Leaving Iris asleep in the car seat, I went inside. I opened the back door so I could hear her from the kitchen when she woke. I felt a compulsion when there were new neighbors. It was selfish, but I just wanted all new people to like me, and I harbored a fantasy each time that there would be a best friend for me.

Carra, at six, would recite when she'd met each neighborhood friend, "When I was two, I met Vivian, when I was three . . ." Iris was two, and we hadn't found anyone for her yet. Maybe her best friend would live in Tia's old house. Maybe they would be horrible nouveax riches and tear the whole thing down to make a McMansion stretching to the edges of the lawn. Maybe they would take down the slowly dying dogwood. Maybe if I brought them brownies, they would be more likely to keep things as they should be, as they were.

I unearthed chocolate, sugar, flour, nuts, eggs, relishing the shape of each object that would participate in the whole. With my first two children, I cooked and baked all the time while they played with muffin tins and dried pasta on the floor. Carra pointed out the shapes she recognized in her board books, and Oliver swung in a bouncy seat suspended from the doorway. Iris hardly ever let me bake, so when she woke a few minutes before I spread the brownies into the pan, I let her talk and fuss alone in the car; I even let her scream as I opened the oven and slid them in, telling her, "It's okay, lovey, just a second," though of course she couldn't hear me.

I never expected to live in the house I grew up in. I never expected to lose my mother before I became a mother myself. I never expected the losses and the gains, the shapes they took in the corners of days, of years, shifting in their chairs like visiting aunts.

When we all lived in the house, my mother, my father, my four brothers--three older, one younger--we filled the rooms with the scents of half-peeled oranges and new notebook paper and the blue chemical odor of dittoed homework sheets. My mother had had us each two years apart--"regular as eggs," she said. My father, a mathematician at Columbia, was often at conferences or at his office over the garage, where piles of papers leaned against each other like tired soldiers. He had chosen my name after Theano, the wife of Pythagoras, a mathematician in her own right. Still, she was mostly known as someone's wife. My mother was mainly a mother, though even then I knew there were other things she loved: making small drawings she kept in a drawer and tending her roses and vegetable gardens.

She talked about her garden all winter, about places she'd been and planned to take us: the brilliant blooming grounds at Versailles when the jasmine spread scent all over the green trimmed lawns; snorkeling among a riot of tropical fish off the coast of Israel. She talked about places she hadn't been, sighing loudly, her chest and shoulders rising and dropping into brief defeat.

Then my brother Oren died a few months before his twentieth birthday. I knew in some ways my mother, the first Iris, felt a failure for losing her son. Now that I was a mother myself, I knew my mother probably dug deep into the history of her child rearing to determine how it was her fault, what she'd done wrong.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Gwendolen Gross is the author of the novels Field Guide and Getting Out, and received an M.F.A. in fiction and
poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in northern New Jersey with her family.

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Other Mother 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book until I got about two-thirds of the way through. Not to give anything away, but one of the main points of the plot (involving dead animals left on Thea's property) was, to me, simply not credible. Still, though, the characters were establshed beautifully, and the author articulates the 'Mommy Wars' (working mom vs. 'stay-at-home' mom)in an insightful, intelligent way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely was drawn in by this haunting story and could not put it down! The characters are wonderful and real. Don't miss it even if you are not a mom yourself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Told in the alternating voices of Thea, a stay-at-home mom, and Amanda, a working mom, The Other Mother probes deep into the mommy wars issue. With their very different life choices, can these neighbors really get along? The tension mounts as Amanda is forced to live with Thea¿s family and Thea becomes the caregiver for Amanda¿s new daughter. The reader will be quickly drawn into Thea¿s and Amanda¿s lives and the struggles they encounter as they try to live out the motherhood styles they have chosen. Whether reading as an individual or for a book group, The Other Mother will challenge and engage you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having been The Other Mother on both sides of the Mommy Wars fence, I was extremely excited to read The Other Mother by Gwendolyn Gross. It tells the story of stay-at-home Thea, striving for perfection as a mom to three children, and Amanda, a new mother who doesn¿t want to give up the career she has made for herself or being the woman she was before she became a mother. When a disaster strikes, Amanda and her family take refuge in Thea¿s home, and Thea is the ever-gracious, can¿t-say-no-to-anyone woman. She has to be in control. And later, she becomes the temporary Nanny to Amanda¿s baby, and inevitably, she falls in love with the baby. Amanda¿s and Thea¿s relationship is both tumultuous and at times sincerely loving. It¿s as if they are both looking to find something in the other that they have not within themselves. A series of events, including animal carnage left on doorsteps, a pre-teen in the throes of her first love, and an unexpected kiss lead the reader into a forest of twists and turns in this page-turner of a book. In addition to a great story, Gross uses her talents as a writer to bring otherwise non-living things to life in The Other Mother. Flowers that turn their ¿heads¿ to the sunshine a leaf-blower ¿chewing¿ up the ground covering, and pregnant women described as sailing vessels ¿ her words are beautifully manipulated to create images not long forgotten. I found myself wishing I had a highlighter in order to mark and remember some of her poetic phrases. In the end, the reader comes away very satisfied, and Gross writes her story in a way that there is no right or wrong in choosing how to mother. The only wrong would be if you were not to read this book!
harstan More than 1 year ago
Book editor Amanda works in New York City, but recently left the city for suburban Teaneck, New Jersey with her husband Aaron after she became pregnant. Her next door neighbor is a stay at home mom of three Thea Caldwell, who is living with her husband Caius in the house she was raised in.----------------------- The two women are polar opposites as Amanda plans to return to work once she gives birth while Thea seems to relish taxiing the kiddies and keeping her only preschooler in line. Not long after Amanda gives birth, a tree crashes through their house during a storm. Caius invites his new neighbors to live in their basement until the repairs are complete and Amanda hires Thea as her newborn's temporary nanny. However, when dead animals are dumped on Thea¿s doorstep she assumes this is a declaration of war between the two species and plots to retaliate.------------------ This insightful book compares the two major magnetic mommy poles, the working mom vs. the stay at home mom. When the story line focuses on the inner but differing doubts of Amanda and Thea, it is a superior deep character study that has the audience considering the issues. When the plot provides external impetus for a mommy war, it turns inane and forced. Still readers will appreciate THE OTHER MOTHER as Gwendolen Gross gets inside the respective heads of her opposite lead protagonists.------------------------------- Harriet Klausner