When Maggie’s mom, Iris, dies in a car crash, Maggie returns home to a withdrawn dad, an angry brother, and five sealed envelopes, each addressed to different men she’s never heard of. In an effort to run from her own grief and discover the truth about Iris Maggie embarks on a road trip, determined to hand-deliver the letters and find out what these men meant to her mother.
... a story of queerness, love and family like you’ve never seen it before ... a wholly unique exploration of identity, sexuality and the all-consuming power of love. Masad is a masterful storyteller who offers complex, dynamic characters that continue to surprise us until the very end.
Through Maggie’s thought processes, Masad successfully subverts readers’ expectations of her novel’s classic premise too. Yes, All My Mother’s Lovers has an air of mystery to it, there are textbook elements of road trip and discovery narratives; but, it is ultimately a story about self-acceptance, one with some fresh and much-needed updates to boot. Masad—who is an excellent book critic—recognizes the predictable and formulaic movements of literary archetypes and manages to complicate many of them during Maggie’s journey while still holding onto engaging forward movement, and the pacing particularly picks up once Maggie hits the road ... This sequence leading up to Maggie’s departure is, perhaps, drawn out a stretch too long; but, it is filled with deft scaffolding and subtle clues to the novel’s ultimate trajectory ... These vignettes from the distant past also help to accomplish what is arguably Masad’s largest triumph: superb and cohesive character development. The novel is nearly free of 'extras' and bit characters; each person Maggie knows or encounters is fully rounded and given an identity full of complexity. This is particularly important considering Masad presents an inclusive and intersectional cast across race, class, age, gender identity, and sexual orientation. The novel’s plot presents many opportunities for flat and convenient character work, but, here again, the author navigates around easy traps and pitfalls ... The novel’s most notable issue, on the other hand (and forgive the cliche), is that Masad has held onto a few extra darlings. The occasional overwritten or superfluous explanation demonstrate this tendency ... The well-versed reader in the genres Maggie imagines her search for answers taking will likely anticipate the general direction of the novel’s conclusion, but the endpoint is nonetheless inventive and rewarding, because Masad never allows her characters to be either strictly good or bad, honest or deceitful, compartmentalized or united. With this novel, Masad joins an all-star lineup of 2020 debuts ... explores the distance we feel between ourselves and others, even those we love most, and how the gap in those perspectives can be an entry point for grief, empathy, and forgiveness.
... can feel thin at times, though it’s a testament to Masad’s writing that I wanted more from the world she created: more depth to Iris’s letters, which read more like camp-pen-pal correspondence than confessions from the grave; and more dimension to Maggie’s dad, Peter, who spends most of the novel out of sorts, only to drop a bombshell at the end that feels pat and underexplored ... Yet Masad is deft and incisive about the sometimes-fraught nature of mother-daughter relationships, around which loaded subtext can seem to twist and twine like Christmas lights. And she affectingly plumbs the mind-bending hugeness that is losing a parent.