One day, the mother was a mother, but then one night, she was quite suddenly something else...
An ambitious mother puts her art career on hold to stay at home with her newborn son, but the experience does not match her imagination. Two years later, she steps into the bathroom for a break from her toddler's demands, only to discover a dense patch of hair on the back of her neck. In the mirror, her canines suddenly look sharper than she remembers. Her husband, who travels for work five days a week, casually dismisses her fears from faraway hotel rooms.
As the mother's symptoms intensify, and her temptation to give in to her new dog impulses peak, she struggles to keep her alter-canine-identity secret. Seeking a cure at the library, she discovers the mysterious academic tome which becomes her bible, A Field Guide to Magical Women: A Mythical Ethnography, and meets a group of mommies involved in a multilevel-marketing scheme who may also be more than what they seem.
An outrageously original novel of ideas about art, power, and womanhood wrapped in a satirical fairy tale, Nightbitch will make you want to howl in laughter and recognition. And you should. You should howl as much as you want.
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||8.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
When she had referred to herself as Nightbitch, she meant it as a good-natured self-deprecating joke--because that’s the sort of lady she was, a good sport, able to poke fun at herself, definitely not uptight, not wound really tight, not so freakishly tight that she couldn’t see the humor in a lighthearted not-meant-as-an-insult situation--but in the days following this new naming, she found the patch of coarse black hair sprouting from the base of her neck, and was, like, What the fuck.
I think I’m turning into a dog, she said to her husband when he arrived home after a week away for work. He laughed and she didn’t.
She had hoped he wouldn’t laugh. She had hoped, that week as she lay in bed, wondering if she was turning into a dog, that when she said those words to her husband, he would tip his head to one side and ask for clarification. She had hoped he would take her concerns seriously. But as soon as she said the words, she saw this was impossible.
Seriously, she insisted. I have this weird hair on my neck.
She lifted her normal hair to show him the black patch. He rubbed it with his fingers and said, Yeah, you’re definitely a dog.
To her credit, she did appear more hirsute than usual. Her unruly hair moved about her head and shoulders like a cloud of wasps. Her brows caterpillared across her forehead with unplucked growth. She had even witnessed two black hairs curling from her chin and, in the right light--in any light at all, to be honest--you could see the five o’clock shadow of her mustache as it grew back in after her laser treatments. Had she always had so much hair on her arms? Descending the edge of her jaw from her hairline? And was it normal to have patches of hair on the tops of your feet?
And look at my teeth, she said, baring her teeth and pointing to her canines. She was convinced they had grown, and the tips had narrowed to ferocious points that could cut a finger with a mere prick. Why, she had nearly cut hers during her nightly examination in the bathroom. Every night, when her husband was gone and their son was happily playing with trains in his pajamas, she stood at the mirror and pulled her lips back from her teeth, turned her head from side to side, then tilted her head back and looked at her teeth from that bottom-up angle, searched the Internet on her phone for pictures of canines to which she might compare her own, tapped her teeth with her fingernails, told herself she was being silly, then searched humans with dog teeth on her phone, searched do humans and dogs share a common ancestor, searched human animal hybrid and recessive animal genes in humans and research human animal genes legacy, searched werewolves, searched real werewolves in history, searched (somewhat inexplicably) witches, searched (somewhat relatedly) hysteria 19th century, and then, since she wanted to, searched rest cures and The Yellow Wallpaper, and she reread The Yellow Wallpaper, which she had once read in college, then stared blankly for a while at nothing in particular while sitting on the toilet, then stopped searching altogether.
Touch it, she insisted, pointing to her tooth. Her husband reached out and prodded the tip of her canine with his pointer finger.
Ow! he said, pulling his hand back and cradling it close to his body. Just kidding, he said as he held up an unscathed finger and waggled it at her face.
Your tooth looks the same to me. You always think something’s wrong with you, he said pleasantly.
Her husband was an engineer. He specialized in “quality control.” What precisely this meant, the mother was not entirely sure. So he went around and looked at machines to make sure they were maximizing efficiency? Adjusted systems to keep them humming along at higher frequencies? Read output reports and made suggestions toward improvement? Sure. Whatever.
What she did know was that he had little time for feelings, a condescending patience for intuition, and scoffed openly at talk unsupported by peer-reviewed scientific studies or statistics. Still, he was a good man, a caring man, an affable man, whom she appreciated very much, despite everything. She was, after all, prone to indecision, doubling back on things she had once felt but had since come to feel differently about. She was prone to anxiety, to worry, to a sensation in her chest that her heart might explode. She ran hot. She buzzed. Either she needed to keep busy or else she needed to lie down and sleep. Her husband, on the other hand, needed nothing whatsoever.
No wonder, then, that they deferred to his judgment, his good levelheaded judgment, his engineer’s evenness. Of course there was nothing wrong with her. This she told herself as they lay in bed, their child between them, asleep and wedging his toes beneath her leg.
I think I should sleep in the guest room, she whispered to her husband.
Why? he whispered back.
I get so angry now. At night, she said. He didn’t respond. I think I just need a good night’s sleep, she added.
Okay, he said.
She rolled from bed without a sound and felt her way down the stairs and tucked into the clean sheets of the guest bed. She rubbed the patch of coarse hair on the back of her neck to soothe herself, then ran her tongue over the sharp edges of her teeth. In this way, she fell into a thick and unbothered sleep.
One day, the mother was a mother, but then, one night, she was quite suddenly something else.
Yes, it had been June, and, yes, her husband had been gone the entire week. In fact, it was his twenty-second weeklong absence that year, a year in which only twenty-four weeks in total had passed, not that anyone was counting.
Yes, the boy had an ear infection that week and had slept only in fitful bouts. Yes, he had not really been napping well or even at all.
Yes, she was experiencing intense PMS for the first time in her life, at age thirty-seven.
And it was then, on a regular Friday, in the deepest hours of night, when the boy awoke there in bed, between his mother and father, for he did not--he would not--sleep in his own. It was the third or fourth time that night he had stirred. She had lost track.
At first she did nothing, waiting for her husband to wake, which he did not, because that wasn’t a thing he ever did. She waited longer than she usually did, waited and waited, the boy wailing while she lay as still as a corpse, patiently waiting for the day when her corpse self would miraculously be reanimated and taken into the Kingdom of the Chosen, where it would create an astonishing art installation composed of many aesthetically interesting beds. The corpse would have unlimited child-care and be able to hang out and go to show openings and drink corpse wine with the other corpses whenever it wanted, because that was heaven. That was it.
She lay there as long as she could without making a sound, a movement. Her child’s screams fanned a flame of rage that flickered in her chest.
That single, white-hot light at the center of the darkness of herself--that was the point of origin from which she birthed something new, from which all women do.
You light a fire early in your girlhood. You stoke it and tend it. You protect it at all costs. You don’t let it rage into a mountain of light, because that’s not becoming of a girl. You keep it secret. You let it burn. You look into the eyes of other girls and see their fires flickering there, offer conspiratorial nods, never speak aloud of a near-unbearable heat, a growing conflagration.
You tend the flame because if you don’t you’re stuck, in the cold, on your own, doomed to seasonal layers, doomed to practicality, doomed to this is just the way things are, doomed to settling and understanding and reasoning and agreeing and seeing it another way and seeing it his way and seeing it from all the other ways but your own.
And upon hearing the boy’s scream, the particular pitch and slice, she saw the flame behind her closed eyes. For a moment, it quivered on unseen air, then, at once, lengthened and thinned, paused, and dropped with a whump into her chest, then deeper into her belly, setting her aflame.
Goooooo baaaarg EEEEeeeeep, she gargled, sleep-drunk, only half awake. She was trying to say something--Go back to sleep, perhaps--but instead the words came out in an undulating sweep of grunts and squeals, sounds she’d only ever heard long before, during her girlhood, from her grandmother’s husky as it begged at the door for dinner scraps. She had never liked that dog, first because its eyes were ice blue--the eyes of the undead--and, moreover, because of the way it sounded, almost human. And now those same sounds slipped from her own mouth.
The strangeness of the sound, and then the memory of the husky, woke her more than she would have liked.
Stop! she said sharply to the child, her husband an unmoving mass on the other side of the boy, who rolled and kicked, his cries turning to screams.
Stop. Stop. Stop! she barked, rolling over to face the boy.
His fucking binky! she growled meanly to her husband, then turned away from them both and stuck a finger in one ear.
The boy cried and cried, and her husband did nothing and nothing. The fire roared large, larger, blistering hot, until it threatened to consume her entirely, and it was then she rose with a great howl, flung the sheets from her, reached for the bedside light, in her haste knocked the lamp to the floor and heard it shatter, moaned with rage and staggered around the bed, found the other bedside lamp, then turned the switch to find her husband sitting in bed, holding the cowering boy, binky now in mouth.
Her hair was long and unkempt and, suspended within it, small bits of leaves, a dust of cracker or bread, unidentified white fluff. She breathed heavily from her mouth. Smears of blood painted her path around the bed, tiny shards of lamp base now embedded in the tender skin of her feet, though this the mother did not notice, or perhaps she did not care. Her eyes narrowed, and she sniffed the air. She skulked back to her side of the bed, wrapped herself in the blankets and, without helping, without offering a hand, without care, promptly plummeted into a hard and drowning sleep.
In the morning, she stood, disheveled, in the dirty kitchen, drinking coffee, a load of bloodied sheets churning in the washer, her feet washed and bandaged. The boy played with his train set in the living room, cooing and babbling and laughing. Her husband, such a chipper man, buttered a piece of blackened toast.
You were kind of . . . He paused, thinking, then continued: . . . a bitch last night.
He chuckled to show it wasn’t meant meanly, just as observation.
Night bitch, she said, without pause. I am Nightbitch.
They both laughed then, because what else were they supposed to do? Her anger, her bitterness, her coldness in that darkest part of the night surprised even her. She wanted to think she had become another person altogether the night before, but she knew the horrible truth, that Nightbitch had always been there, not even that far below the surface.
No one could have predicted such an arrival, for years up until that point she had been the very picture of a mother, self-sacrificing and domestic, un-gripey, un-grumpy, refreshed even after unrefreshing nights of nonsleep, nursing the baby and rocking the baby and shushing the baby while her kind husband snored and slept or, actually, most of the time, was not even there.
He had a job. He made money. He was off on his work trips, Goodbye! and I love you! and kisses with a brisk wave of the hand and twinkle of the eye. She stood with the babe in arms and watched him back the car from the driveway. Her undergraduate degree was from a prestigious university, better than the one he had attended. She held two master’s degrees, whereas he held none. (She also held a baby.) It shouldn’t have been a contest, and it wasn’t, was it? No, definitely not. She would never think of her husband in such competitive terms, but she did fault herself for choosing such an impractical field as studio art. What a nut she had been, this mother! She was just a lady who liked art, and that was no way to make a career or make money, no matter how much you liked art, no matter how talented you might be at making it.
She pushed to the very back of her mind the fact that she’d had a job, before the baby, to which she’d actively referred as her “dream job,” running a community gallery, bringing in artists whose work she felt would expand the collective artistic consciousness of their small Midwestern town, programming art classes, coordinating with schools on student projects, immersing herself in art and the art world and doing something she believed in, and, moreover, actually getting paid to do such a job, working in the arts, one of those rare and magical jobs. Of course, the breadth of work required by such a job was not commensurate with the pay, but she had come just to be grateful, you know? Grateful that she even got to work in the art world, despite the amount of work. Her classmates from grad school would kill for such a job, and she did it happily.
But then the baby. She had considered it might present a complication, but not anything she couldn’t handle. After all, women didn’t have to stop their lives now, in this day and age, for babies. They could work in the office and work at home. They could work and work and work around the clock if they wanted! This was their right. But what she hadn’t thought enough about were the show openings in the evenings, and arts classes on the weekends, and early-morning before-school meetings with teachers, and after-work receptions. With a husband out of town and a baby at home, this sort of schedule no longer worked. Who would pick up the baby from day care or put it to bed? She couldn’t bring him to a black-tie gala, no matter how progressive the crowd. She could not manage a volunteer docent staff of twenty-five, or lead a strategic planning session with her board of directors while nursing.