The synopsis for Rachel Yoder’s debut novel, Nightbitch is as follows:
One day, the mother was a mother but then, one night, she was quite suddenly something else…
At home full-time with her two-year-old son, an artist finds she is struggling. She is lonely and exhausted. She had imagined – what was it she had imagined? Her husband, always travelling for his work, calls her from faraway hotel rooms. One more toddler bedtime, and she fears she might lose her mind.
Instead, quite suddenly, she starts gaining things, surprising things that happen one night when her child will not sleep. Sharper canines. Strange new patches of hair. New appetites, new instincts. And from deep within herself, a new voice…
Despite what you make think based on this alone, I promise you that this is not at all what you will expect. Despite the marketing pitching this book more towards “dark literary fiction” but that definitely leads away from the mind-numbing, reality-bending rollercoaster of a story it contains. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, myself, as I got ready to crack the cover. Was it going to be a contemporary thriller with hints of the surreal? Was it leaning more towards horror? If it was horror, what subgenre? Even after finishing the book, I still don’t think I know the answer to any of these questions, but I decided to approach it from the horror standpoint since that is where I personally felt the story best sat.
As our mostly nameless protagonist (the mother, later known as Nightbitch) slowly sinks into her reality the story becomes both unsettling and uplifting at the same time. Yoder really blew me away with her ability to make me feel so much rage at useless spouses while feeling reminded and validated in being able to demand what you need in life. The way the hopelessness of the women of this story is portrayed, showing both sides of the “stay at home mother”, was so well written and so important for all genders to see. Just because a parent – but especially cis-female mothers – stays home, it does not mean that they have an easy life. Childcare is no joke. Managing the household is no joke. In the context of this book, these women have given up their very successful careers and dreams of the future of those careers to care for their children. They struggle with this sense of resentment towards their children, their husbands, towards themselves for giving in. It’s a side of womanhood that I don’t think enough people, in general, consider when passing judgement.
Reading this book as a transman has been complicated. I have related a lot to how Nightbitch feels, wanting to go absolutely feral over truly unfair situations and seeing people I know in the depiction of her husband. I’ve seen my own single mother in these pages and seen fears I had as a child coming from a single-parent household. I felt a weird sense of validation emotionally from this book while also feeling uncomfortable at the idea of motherhood in relation to myself.
The un-reality of this book was also incredibly trippy. Was Nightbitch really becoming a dog? Was her husband really on board with everything? Was her son? I love a good “what’s real” story and I’m still unsure of several moments and what they meant. But that isn’t at all a bad thing. This book is amazing but I am also unsure of if I liked it if that makes sense. Regardless though, this is not a book soon forgotten and I’m definitely going to be reading it again in the future.
The other thing I want to say as a bit of an afterthought though is in regards to the book being optioned for a film adaption:
According to Deadline, Amy Adams is set to star in this film and I think that’s a horrible decision. I already sense that the film is going to be marketed to the world as “ooh spooky thriller for stereotypical homebound mommy” and that is not what this book needs at all. As a huge fan of psychological horror that seeks to intentionally make viewers uncomfortable, I feel like that’s the route this adaptation should be heading towards. An adaptation that would end up on some list-article of “Top Movies That Made People Collapse At Cannes”. If this book came out ten years ago, I would give anything to see Lars Von Trier as the head of the adaptation starring the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg. It screams of the aesthetic of AntiChrist and deserves a proper horrifying, ban-worthy film adaptation.
If I haven’t scared you off with this review, do just be aware of some potential trigger warnings including animal abuse/mutilation, mild body horror, fixation on appearance, hypochondriac behaviour.