MOER (Protea Books), the debut novel of Michèle Meyer, tackles the shrine of motherhood and both dismantles and deconstructs the position of family saviour these often battered and bruised women have to uphold. It’s a brave and necessary approach to take, writes DIANE DE BEER:
Mothers of the world are often celebrated in superficial ways, but when it comes to their daily lives and how they have to cope, it is often woman alone.
She isn’t really allowed to complain because so many get on with it and don’t say a word. It is a selfless task, even with the rewards of raising a family. With that comes a responsibility that must be quite terrifying.
And on my part that’s only conjecture, because by choice I didn’t have any. The task for me seemed too daunting and I knew for my sanity I needed to work. For some of us that’s just how it is.
Michèle Meyer’s book MOER (Protea Books) has a title with many meanings, amongst them an old-fashioned word for mother, but also translating to extremely harsh words, and thus giving the indication, certainly to this reader, that this is going to be an interesting read.
And it is so much more. It does indeed deal with motherhood, but is written in quite a novel fashion. The chapters are mostly short and while the characters are all connected and there is a throughline, it’s not a once-upon-a-time story.
It deals with different aspects of being a woman in relation to being a mother. I know that editor Deborah Steinmair guided the decision of how to present this particular story and it’s something author Michèle Meyer eagerly acknowledges.
It is the clever combination of the writing and the compilation that adds power to this/these particular mother(s) story.
That’s what Meyer achieves. It becomes universal rather than personal, even when it feels almost painfully personal. As her mother was singularly alone in a house filled with husband and children, so many wives/mothers are confronted with children whom they have to raise on their own. Sometimes they are single, but other times the need for help isn’t acknowledged – mentally or physically – and often the means aren’t there and one partner is out in the world earning the family’s keep, while the other keeps the family alive.
It’s a setup that hasn’t changed for far too long with most of the time, the children handed over to the mother to do as she sees fit – and sometimes she has no clue.
In many instances, it is the circumstances not the people involved that turn out to be harrowing, but in others, it’s just the way things have been done for generations with the man of the household making the decisions while everyone else has to comply.
And then, of course, there are many permutations … yet very few are resolved. Meyer’s mother(s), alas, is from a very isolated place. Young and fragile, she is left to her own devices as she tries to face the terrors of motherhood singly. The husband is carving out his career and that is something that takes up all of his time, his wife and his growing brood hardly acknowledged.
And yes, I know in many instances these things can be worked out and dealt with in quite a wholesome manner, but that is still unattainable in most households. Sometimes money helps to alleviate the worst, but there’s not much one can do about an emotional wasteland.
Not many people have the fight to go this one alone, but sometimes, that’s the only option. And for this mother that was it – and her saving grace. Meyer doesn’t save us the hardship of what her mother had to battle to survive. And that’s yet another courageous decision. Mothers are meant to carry the load – without complaints. This one does too, but she knows she has to save her life for the sake of her children and even when losing them at the start of rebuilding her life, she knows she doesn’t have a choice.
A recent story of a single mother who fought for her child on one of the streaming services told a similar story. It was based on a true story of a young woman involved with a weak man she knew she had to shake. She does, but her only option is to work in the service industry cleaning houses, and everything (especially bureaucracy) is against her succeeding. The world isn’t set up to reach out a helping hand. Instead these women are disregarded, or seen as victims, never worth saving. They have to fight for themselves.
It’s time that more women speak out, tell and share their stories so that others might have the courage to stand up and walk out when often their sanity and their lives are involved.
Because it is a story of mothers, individual readers will read it from different perspectives, and that is what makes this such a smart read.
Meyer’s writing is hard-hitting (many will think personal) and that especially makes it such a brave book and one that will bring relief to many who will (hopefully) no longer feel alone.