A speculative thriller about a mother of two young children who, by confronting a masked intruder in her home, slips into an existential rabbit hole where she grapples with the dualities of motherhood—joy and dread, longing and suffocation.
Molly believes herself 'immobilized by what-ifs,' but the what-ifs animate this novel, the narrative splitting and looping back on itself as it tries out parallel possibilities, various fantasies and nightmares ... Phillips favors a succession of rapid-fire chapters, some only a few sentences long, and at several points the timeline breaks up so that each new section requires a significant recalibration. The reader, trying to keep track of the chronology, trying hard to make sense of it all, feels the full force of Molly’s panic, the unruly runaway velocity of her life ... Like parenthood itself, The Need is frightening and maddening and full of dark comedy ... Phillips, as careful with language as she is bold with structure, captures many small sharp truths. She is very good on drudgery and tiredness and marital resentment ... may well mystify nonparents ... Everyday life, here, is both tedious and fascinating, grotesque and lovely, familiar and tremendously strange.
I haven’t seen an accurate representation of that idea—the otherhood of motherhood—until reading Helen Phillips’s novel ... Phillips deftly conveys the physicality of parenting small children ... a book so smart and brave about motherhood can also be very funny ... The slapstick segues seamlessly into visceral moments in which Molly relishes her children’s corporeal selves ... Molly’s struggle to remain her full self while giving so much of herself away is electrifying. Phillips keeps chapters fast, setting scenes but never allowing the threads, or arresting props to hang around too long. Mothers will recognize so much in this fresh novel — but they aren’t the only ones who should read it. Phillips has found a way to make these experiences universal, acknowledging the importance of the other — the creature without whom none of us would exist.
... a striking mixture of allegory and paranormal horror ... The eerie drama that unfolds seems to symbolize the deranging doubleness of motherhood—its simultaneous states of love and exasperation, and of joy and the fear of 'the abyss, the potential injury flickering within.' The duality also has a physical component. Ms. Phillips is particularly good as portraying Molly’s feeling of estrangement within her postpartum body, which produces milk and floods with hormones as though inhabited by an alien life force ... Ms. Phillips is not always in control of the supernatural elements of her story. Some of the scenes seem creepy for the sake of creepiness, and the ending is oracular rather than climactic. Still, considering its truly bizarre premise, impressive amounts of The Need feel real and true.