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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
Motherhood

Motherhood

A Novel

Sheila Heti

Henry Holt and Co.

BUY THE BOOK

From the author of How Should a Person Be? (“one of the most talked-about books of the year”—Time Magazine) and the New York Times Bestseller Women in Clothes comes a daring novel about whether to have children.

In Motherhood, Sheila Heti asks what is gained and what is lost when a woman becomes a mother, treating the most consequential decision of early adulthood with the candor, originality, and humor that have won Heti international acclaim and made How Should A Person Be? required reading for a generation.

In her late thirties, when her friends are asking when they will become mothers, the narrator of Heti’s intimate and urgent novel considers whether she will do so at all. In a narrative spanning several years, casting among the influence of her peers, partner, and her duties to her forbearers, she struggles to make a wise and moral choice. After seeking guidance from philosophy, her body, mysticism, and chance, she discovers her answer much closer to home.

Motherhood is a courageous, keenly felt, and starkly original novel that will surely spark lively conversations about womanhood, parenthood, and about how—and for whom—to live.

NOTE

Flipping three coins is a technique used by people who consult the I Ching, a divination system that originated in China over three thousand years ago. Kings used it in times of war, and regular people used it to help them with...

Praise for Motherhood

One of Entertainment Weekly’s 20 New Books to Read in May 2018
One of Publishers Weekly Buzz Books of Spring/Summer 2018
One of The Wall Street Journal’s Most Highly Anticipated Novels of 2018
One of Vulture’s 10 Most Exciting Book Releases of 2018
One of The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of 2018
One of Chicago Reader’s Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018

“A provocative work that probes the new norms of femininity . . . Compelling . . . Wondrous.”
—Daphne Merkin, O Magazine

“Unique . . . By devoting so many pages to her conflicted, sometimes contradictory thought process, Heti honors the weight of this singularly assigned-female decision, and lends power to those who make it—those who choose not to have children and those who do.”
—Katie Heaney, BuzzFeed News

“Heti is at her best—her sharpest and funniest—when she writes about why having a child doesn’t appeal to her, cutting against saccharine commonplaces about the importance of child-rearing.”
—Elaine Blair, The New York Times Book Review

“Expansive . . . Meditative and playful . . . Motherhood treats the question of whether to become a mother and what it means to take on that responsibility with the seriousness and complexity it deserves . . . Heti’s important book is a positive assertion that motherhood is not an obligatory sacrifice, a glorified institution, the cornerstone of a woman’s being. Motherhood is—or should be—a choice, with each woman accorded the f… More…





One of Entertainment Weekly’s 20 New Books to Read in May 2018
One of Publishers Weekly Buzz Books of Spring/Summer 2018
One of The Wall Street Journal’s Most Highly Anticipated Novels of 2018
One of Vulture’s 10 Most Exciting Book Releases of 2018
One of The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of 2018
One of Chicago Reader’s Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018

“A provocative work that probes the new norms of femininity . . . Compelling . . . Wondrous.”
—Daphne Merkin, O Magazine

“Unique . . . By devoting so many pages to her conflicted, sometimes contradictory thought process, Heti honors the weight of this singularly assigned-female decision, and lends power to those who make it—those who choose not to have children and those who do.”
—Katie Heaney, BuzzFeed News

“Heti is at her best—her sharpest and funniest—when she writes about why having a child doesn’t appeal to her, cutting against saccharine commonplaces about the importance of child-rearing.”
—Elaine Blair, The New York Times Book Review

“Expansive . . . Meditative and playful . . . Motherhood treats the question of whether to become a mother and what it means to take on that responsibility with the seriousness and complexity it deserves . . . Heti’s important book is a positive assertion that motherhood is not an obligatory sacrifice, a glorified institution, the cornerstone of a woman’s being. Motherhood is—or should be—a choice, with each woman accorded the freedom to decide what it means.”
—Polly Rosenwaike, San Francisco Chronicle

“Utterly contagious . . . Comical and kaleidoscopic . . . In the novel’s most powerful passages, the narrator confronts the possibility of maternity by herself, wondering if a life that does not include being a mother can be defined by means other than lack . . . An inventively crafted novel about the complications of being a human being with competing or contradictory desires . . . Powerful . . . Darkly funny, but also kind of heartbreaking.”
—Kate Wolf, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Searingly honest . . . In urgent, first-person prose, Heti contrasts societal expectation with personal desire . . . Starkly intimate . . . The book’s sneaky power lies in a profound question that lacks an answer: How should a mother be?”
—David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly

“Sheila Heti’s new novel, Motherhood, has everyone talking about her carefully, cleverly observed thoughts on whether or not to have a child.”
—Sarah Harrison Smith, The Amazon Book Review

“The title of Heti’s latest work of autofiction—a fashionable hybrid of essay, memoir, and novel—should properly end in a question mark like her last book, How Should a Person Be? . . . Heti’s aggressively ruminative avatar documents parenthood in her demographic as though it were a distant continent in a world without jet travel: the crossing would be perilous and irreversible, and require a lot of unpacking.”
—Boris Kachka, Vulture

Motherhood is an exhibition of Heti’s freedom.”
—Willa Paskin, Slate

“Heti deploys a stream of consciousness style of prose, which often strikes gold . . . An interesting tug-of-war to bear witness to: A successful writer’s internal battle regarding what should be done with the rest of her life. She reaches into every crevice of her brain, her soul, her womb, to pull out some semblance of a driving force behind her decision to have or not to have children . . . Compelling . . . What is unfaltering and charming about the way Heti writes is her utter unpretentiousness. She acknowledges certain insecurities and desires—to have big breasts, for example—but in a way that is so innately human. Her preoccupation with how the world sees her offers an earnestness that, spun between more nuanced interpretations of life and her art, connected me to Sheila in a way that felt secret, or just mine . . . For those of us who do waver, who still yearn to fill our lives with travel and sex, and also maybe that boundless love that people yearn for, Motherhood is essential reading. If only to assure you you’re not alone.”
—Rachel Ellison, Bustle

“Original, insightful . . . Motherhood is such a powerful story, it’s as if she has to subvert the narrative logic of both novel and memoir to divine her true desires . . . It has also opened up a fruitful space for considering motherhood in all its complications . . . Terrifically funny and engaging.”
—Julie Phillips, 4Columns

“Heti’s book, like many of her novels, takes the mind as the primary setting, and thoughts are the major source of action: narrative arcs begin and end with the progress of her characters’ thinking, and the process by which they arrive at their conclusions. In Motherhood, this style suits the subject well—we’re brought so close to the narrator’s ongoing internal monologue that soon her thoughts start to feel like the reader’s. The more she thinks, the closer she gets to an answer to the real question posed to people with uteruses, not what if or why but where.”
—Haley Mlotek, The Ringer

“Ponderous . . . Heti’s book strikes upon one of the most mystical American beliefs surrounding motherhood.”
—Heather Wilhelm, National Review

“Earthy and philosophical and essential . . . Motherhood floats, as did Heti’s excellent novel How Should a Person Be? (2012), somewhere between fiction and nonfiction. It reads like an inspired monologue . . . Heti’s semi-fiction, like that of writers like Ben Lerner, Rachel Cusk and Teju Cole, among others, is dismantling our notions of what a novel should be . . . She deals out her ideas in no-nonsense form, as if she were pulling espresso shots . . . This book is endlessly quotable, and a perfect review would be nothing but quotations. She makes a banquet of her objections to parenthood. If you are an underliner, as I am, your pen may go dry . . . Indeed, Heti always seems to be drawing from a paranormally deep well . . . Funny . . . Cannily employed.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Engrossing . . . Motherhood joins How Should a Person Be? and Women in Clothes to form what might be read as a field guide to womanhood in a particular literary-bohemian milieu . . . Motherhood, in this book, exists most of all as a force that shapes women’s lives and their relationships with one another. Heti approaches the subject with an observer’s curiosity more than a deliberate agenda . . . Motherhood foils my abilities as a critic: I like the book as a catalyst for thought, and admire its ability to withstand sustained consideration.”
—Molly Fischer, New York Magazine

“Illuminating . . . Intimate . . . Poignant.”
—Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker

“In Motherhood, Heti takes on her most controversial and private debate yet—whether or not to have a child. A brilliant, radical, and moving book, it is sure to cause the cultural riot her earlier work has . . . There’s a new quality to Heti’s writing in Motherhood. The only way I can describe it is tenderness . . . Beautiful . . . Surprising.”
—Claudia Dey, The Paris Review

Motherhood goes deeper than simple yes or no answers. Heti wants to give women permission to take this question [of whether or not to have a child] seriously . . . One of the most powerful parts of Motherhood is that it doesn’t pit women against each other; instead, it creates an ongoing dialogue . . . invigorating.”
—Michele Filgate, Publishers Weekly (interview)

“The book is a painterly examination of [Heti’s] psyche—a Rorschach blot of inborn pressures and the exuberant autonomy that threatens them . . . Add love letter to the list of what Motherhood is . . . She tracks a clear trajectory of matriarchal pain . . . Sensuous and velvety . . . continually spiraling back to self-contained joy when she finds herself unabashedly grateful.”
—Monica Uszerowicz, BOMB Magazine

“Profound.”
—Norah Piehl, Bookreporter

“Utterly compelling.”
—Elaine Margolin, Truthdig

“How can I be sure that I want to have a child? Motherhood—a tortured, honest novel—is the Canadian writer Sheila Heti’s attempt to answer this impossible question . . . Her creative process doubles as an attempt to work out her own feelings on the subject . . . The result is a book that is eclectic and compelling, a rare account of how a woman might sidestep what is, for many, a defining life event: the birth of a child. Motherhood is about everything one would expect: female identity, the durability of romantic love, the conflict and resemblances between making children and making art. But it is also a book about fate, agency, and, ultimately, time—how it passes, and what happens while we wait.”
—Maggie Doherty, The New Republic

“Opening Sheila Heti’s new novel, Motherhood, is like hearing a song that you know, just a few beats in, will be your new favorite . . . Heti has achieved a mystic’s appreciation for the basics of being alive, a place that many equally ambitious writers never reach. Unspooling the raw details of random chance, her romantic relationship, her maternal ancestors, her friends, her soul, and most importantly, her art, the novel deepens in feeling until the very last page . . . A major work and a must-read for anyone interested in musings on motherhood.”
—Diana Michele Yap, Washington City Paper (a “critics’ pick”)

“Here is finally is. A book for all of you who are considering having a baby, who had a baby, who didn’t have a baby, who didn’t want a baby, who don’t know what they want but the clock is ticking anyway. This topic is finally tackled as if it were the most important decision in your life. Because, um. How lucky are we that one of our foremost thinkers took this upon herself, for years, in real time, wrestling every day and living to tell. So fucking ready to live in the world this book will help make. Read and discuss, discuss, discuss.”
—Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man

“An emotionally complex novel about motherhood that isn’t about children. An intricately constructed book based on games of chance. This feels new.”
—Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation

“A provocative, creative, and triumphant work of philosophical feminist fiction . . . Heti writes with courage, curiosity, and uncommon truth.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Charismatic and beguilingly original . . . oddly compelling . . . Sheila is funny, and idiosyncratic enough to rub contra to 2018, a time when the litmus test for a woman’s success is the extent to which her daily planner is a subject of marvel . . . A joy to read.”
Bookforum

“I deeply enjoyed Sheila Heti’s fractal, meticulous, and twinklingly self-aware book—in which every part seemed to know, and be informed by, every other part—about art and time and change and books and babies. Motherhood synergistically functions both as an intimate, moving, autobiographical novel and as a practical, mysterious, five-year tool used by its protagonist to help her contemplate and answer central questions in her life. I think of Motherhood as a beautiful, natural, living thing—a rare tree in the car-filled parking lot of literature, offering aesthetic and sustainable pleasures while also bristling with multiple, helpful, compassionate functions in the world. The high stakes, complexity, intensity, playfulness, seriousness, and inter-dimensionality of Motherhood’s synthesis of art and life, of the imagination and the universe, makes me excited about both life and literature. I recommend reading and rereading Motherhood.”
—Tao Lin, author of Shoplifting from American Apparel and Taipei

“This lively, exhilaratingly smart, and deliberately, appropriately frustrating affair asks difficult questions about women’s responsibilities and desires, and society’s expectations.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Heti is always original.”
Library Journal

“This inquiry into the modern woman’s moral, social and psychological relationship to procreation is an illumination, a provocation, and a response—finally—to the new norms of femininity, formulated from the deepest reaches of female intellectual authority. It is unlike anything else I’ve read. Sheila Heti has broken new ground, both in her maturity as an artist and in the possibilities of the female discourse itself.”
—Rachel Cusk, author of Outline and Transit

“I read this novel more quickly and eagerly than any I’ve read in ages. Sheila Heti’s simple, elegant sentences invariably give pleasure; her thinking is incisive and wholly original as she grapples with the kind of unhappiness that many of us, myself included, prefer to distract ourselves from rather than look at squarely. Reading Motherhood forced me to become a little more honest with myself.”
—Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

“Reading this beautiful novel, I felt I was watching a brilliant mind invent new tools for thinking. Sheila Heti wrings revelation from the act of asking, again and again, in ever more challenging and innovative ways, impossible questions of existence. Motherhood is a thrilling, very funny, and almost unbearably moving book.”
—Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

“The book Sheila Heti’s Motherhood reminds me of the most is Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, except that the agonizing decision is whether to create a child, and not whether to destroy one—but it’s that good, and that crazy-making. I’ve never seen anyone write about the relationship between childlessness, writing, and mother’s sadnesses the way Sheila Heti does. I know Motherhood is going to mean a lot to many different people—fully as much so as if it was a human that Sheila gave birth to—though in a different and in fact incommensurate way. That’s just one of many paradoxes that are not shied away from in this courageous, necessary, visionary book.”
—Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot and The Possessed

“With each of her novels, Sheila Heti invents a new novel form. Motherhood is a riveting story of love and fate, a powerful inspiration to reflect, and a subtle depiction of the lives of contemporary women and men, by an exceptional artist in the prime of her powers. Motherhood constitutes its own genre within the many-faceted novel of ideas. Heti is like no one else.”
—Mark Greif, author of Against Everything

“In Motherhood, Sheila Heti asks what is gained and what is lost when a woman becomes a mother, treating the most consequential decision of early adulthood with the candor, originality, and humor that have won Heti international acclaim and made How Should A Person Be? required reading for a generation.”
Mogul

“Pregnant with possibility . . . A literature of ideas and inquiry, filed as fiction though really inhabiting a zone yet to be named . . . Eagerly awaited . . . Grounded in the author’s own grappling with the question of whether or not to have a child in the face of a shrinking window of opportunity, [Motherhood] spreads in concentric circles from one woman’s crisis to embrace countless meanings and implications of its title. It’s vintage Heti in its accommodation of opposites: serious and funny, fodder for reflection and a page-turner.”
—Ian McGillis, Montreal Gazette

“A refreshingly contemporary examination of an ageless subject.”
—Sue Carter, Toronto Star

Motherhood goes deep into one of life’s major questions . . . Consistently fascinating . . . Alarmingly candid . . . The emotions in Motherhood are potent.”
—Susan G. Cole, Now Toronto

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Reviews from Goodreads

Sheila Heti

Sheila Heti is the author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, including How Should a Person Be? which was a New York Times Notable Book and was named a best book of the year by The New Yorker. She is co-editor of the New York Times bestseller Women in Clothes, and is the former Interviews Editor for The Believer magazine. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The London Review of Books, The Paris Review, McSweeney's, Harper's, and n+1.

image of Sheila Hetio
Sylvia Plachy