Sorrow and Bliss

By Meg Mason, 2020

This book comes with all the accolades, and with good reason. It’s funny, heart-wrenching, page-turning, and thought-provoking. If that’s not enough of a reason to read it, read it for Ingrid, Martha’s hilarious sister.

Martha’s life has been messy — she has an erratic mother, she struggles with depression, and has a foggy idea of herself. But Patrick has brought a steadiness to her life ever since she was a teenager. And it is after a failed marriage and a few other missteps that they marry and live happily ever after…

Of course not, really. Martha’s one solid belief about herself is that she does not want children, and she tells people without explanation. “In the beginning, I told strangers I couldn’t have children because I thought it would stop them from continuing beyond their initial enquiry. it is better to say you don’t want them. then they know straight away that there is something wrong with you, but at least not in a medical sense.”

While Martha’s narration is candid and honest, she never gives us the reason she doesn’t want children. She reacts emotionally each time her sister becomes pregnant, and often sections of the book end with an anecdote about one of Ingrid’s children. It is evident she is conflicted about the choices she’s made, and acknowledging this serves as a major turning point in her relationship with her husband.

In this way the book investigates the dire ramifications stigmatizing mental illness rather than confronting it. It asks, what could have been different for Martha had her parents given her the treatment she needed at a younger age? Or, what if Martha’s own mother had acknowledged her mental illness, rather than treating it as a quirky character trait?

But it also asks what makes, or breaks, a mother from being ‘good’? Most of Ingrid’s dialogue is confined to complaining about her kids, but is she a bad mom? Of course not. Martha believes she can’t have kids because of her illness. It is because of defining moments in her younger life, left unquestioned, that she stops herself from pursuing something she really does want in adulthood. But what if she reexamined those decisions? Three stars.

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