By Phoenix Tefel
“I want to run naked through a meadow and catch a rabbit and snap its neck and then rip its throat open and drink the warm blood from the wound.”
Rachel Yoder’s debut, Nightbitch, is a freaky novel—rarely does a book devour you rather than the other way around. Visceral and edifying, this is a Metamorphosis-like tale of a stay-at-home mom turning into a dog.
As a young woman with no children of my own, this book made my “biological clock” both tick and revert unto itself in fear. Our tale begins with an anonymous mother, self-dubbed Nightbitch, a woman constantly confronted with the ennui of being a working artist turned stay-at-home mom. She doesn’t quite fit in with the put-together mothers who peddle pyramid-scheme essential oils, and her sweet-but-aloof husband is typically away on business rather than helping to raise their two-year-old son—worst of all, she has been deprived of free time to make art. Compounded with the new patches of hair needling out of her neck and tailbone, the mother feels entirely Othered, even monstrous.
And yet, the beauty within motherhood is palpable; the moments Nightbitch shares with her son, her one companion, are heart-wrenchingly sweet. The kinder scenes in this dirty little novel involve the mother and son “playing doggy," lowering on all fours to bark and nose at each other while voraciously digging hovels into the earth. In parks, hikes, and story time at the library, Nightbitch chases and barks at her son while he runs, quadrupedal and laughing. They are both uncaring about the feral appearance of their movements, allowing the mother to indulge in her newfound primal nature while growing closer to her son than ever before. Nightbitch, the mother, slowly coalesces with Nightbitch, the animal.
Naturally when one begins to blossom tufts of fur and pointy canines, curiosity is sure to follow. The mother searches for answers in A Field Guide to Magical Women, an ethnography from the library written by the mysterious Wanda White. Interspersing her experience with Wanda’s uncanny interactions with birdwomen and wolfmothers, Nightbitch begins a ravenous discovery into the animality within motherhood. Yoder expertly and dreamily weaves her devised mythos that mother is creator, an artist at her most primordial level. Marriage, self-sacrifice, and solitude are merely arduous fictions of society, while deeper there exists the guttural howl of freedom.
The feminine monster is no new feat, but Yoder’s monster mother is something different. Neither sexy nor particularly formidable outside of her realm, Nightbitch’s power is simply existing within the capitalist muck of the modern world. A bestial pinnacle of emancipation, this novel will enrage you, baffle and unyoke you until your howling at the moonlight.
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Max Ruthless: Owner & Ruthless Reader