Mothers & Other Monsters – Reviews

Fri 31 Jul 2009 - Filed under: Authors | Leave a Comment

Mothers & Other Monsters
Maureen McHugh

Story Prize Finalist
Book Sense Notable Book

“All the gorgeously crafted stories in Maureen McHugh’s Mothers & Other Monsters have in common a profound understanding of the intricacies of human relationships, to which McHugh adds a touch of the fantastical. But here the fantastical seems so normal, so part of our everyday experience, that we simply accept McHugh’s premises, odd as they might be when you consider them independently of the tales themselves. The adjective that best represents this collection is ‘unsettling’. How else to describe stories in which a young woman meets a man she’s attracted to at a dog obedience class and discovers that she dreads introducing him to her dead brother (“In the Air”); “Ancestor Money,” in which a bequest entices a woman to leave her comfortable home in the afterlife for a visit to China; or “Laika Comes Back Safe,” the story of two teenagers who are drawn together by the fact that both have unhappy home lives, but whose friendship is doomed because one is a werewolf. Whether it’s alternative history that seems so real you start to question your own knowledge of the past (“The Lincoln Train”) or a tale of the horrifying end of a utopian colony (“The Cost To Be Wise”), McHugh shows that what many people might dismiss initially as genre fiction can become transcendent in the right hands. I was so impressed by these stories that I immediately went back and read McHugh’s first novel, China Mountain Zhang, which I had somehow missed, and enjoyed it thoroughly.”
— Nancy Pearl (Book Lust) on Morning Edition, “Books for a Rainy Day

“Unpredictable and poetic work.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer (Recommended Summer Reading)

“[McHugh] cherry-picks subtle magical or futuristic elements from the expansive genre library.”

“McHugh’s prose style is unique.”
LEO (Louisville Eccentric Observer)

“McHugh is enormously talented…. [She] has a light touch, a gentle sense of a humor, and a keen wit.”
Strange Horizons

“Passion and precision.”

“There’s not a single story that isn’t strong, and most are brilliant.”

“Clear, bright, and honest.”
New York Review of Science Fiction

“Each story in this collection meditates in its own, odd way on the dynamics of families and the vagaries of being human. “Ancestor Money”” considers the demands of the afterlife and the expectations of the living; “The Lincoln Train” describes an alternate ending to the U.S. Civil War, in which former slave owners are shipped westward on crowded trains. “Nekropolis,” the germ of McHugh’s novel of the same title, gives a slightly different flavor to the origins of the story common to both versions. Other stories occur in settings closer to the known world and the tensions of families in it. In “Eight-Legged Story,” a stepmother comes to terms with being a replacement parent, and in “Frankenstein’s Daughter,” a woman deals with the health problems of her daughter’s clone, while her teenage son tries to show off to his friends by shoplifting. McHugh’s stories are hauntingly beautiful, driven by the difficult circumstances of their characters’ lives — slices of life well worth reading and rereading.”

“The 13 stories in McHugh’s debut collection offer poignant and sometimes heartwrenching explorations of personal relationships and their transformative power. In “Presence,” a woman helps her husband through an experimental therapy for his Alzheimer’s disease and, by the story’s end, is less his spouse than a nurturing mother to his developing personality. “In the Air” bridges three generations with its account of the different emotions a woman wrestles with as she anxiously tracks her wandering senile mother and her rebellious teenage daughter by means of biologically implanted homing devices. “Laika Comes Back Safe” represents so believably the feelings two school friends share about their lives in dysfunctional families that the revelation that one occasionally transforms into a werewolf seems entirely within the realm of possibility. Whether writing an alternate Civil War history in “The Lincoln Train” or a tale of extraterrestrial anthropology in “The Cost to Be Wise,” McHugh (Nekropolis) relates her stories as slices of ordinary life whose simplicity masks an emotional intensity more often found in poetry. The universality of these tales should break them out to the wider audience they deserve.”
Publishers Weekly

“In this collection of stories, Maureen F. McHugh explores the subject of technology and identity, demonstrating that technology can only be a lens for what defines us as human, that is, our intimate relationship with the world around us and all the beings with whom we share that world. It is not technology which transforms us into monsters, but the danger of losing our sense of compassion toward ourselves and others in the face of monstrous choices.”
Greenman Review

“Stories that abjure future or alternate-history settings for a here-and-now (sometimes problematically so) in which women, most of them mothers (though again often problematically) seek to negotiate landscapes for which their lives thus far have left them unprepared.”
Tangent Online


Praise for McHugh’s previous books:

On Nekropolis:

  • “Exquisite.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • “This luminous tale of forbidden love in a near-future Morocco explores the evolution of human nature in a world where technology has redefined the meaning of the word human. . . . Speculative fiction at its best.” — Library Journal
  • A New York Times Notable Book
  • A Book Sense 76 Pick
  • Amazon Best of the Year

On China Mountain Zhang:

  • “McHugh’s achievement recalls the best work of Delany and Robinson without being in the least derivative.” — New York Times Notable Book
  • Winner of the Tiptree, Lambda, and Locus Awards.

On Mission Child:

  • “McHugh delivers another astonishing, compulsively readable novel.”–Booklist (starred review)
  • “Fans of Ursula Le Guin will find much to admire in McHugh’s intelligent, carefully wrought novel of a world that is familiar yet very alien.” — Publishers Weekly
  • “Beautiful . . . outstanding . . . McHugh is one of the finest U.S. fiction writers working today.” — Minneapolis Star-Tribune
  • “Emotionally compelling . . . immensely satisfying . . . wonderfully structured and beautifully achieved . . . a splendid science fiction novel . . . McHugh makes an alien world and an imagined society feel compellingly real, and uses this setting to say something significant about being human.” — Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • “Mission Child is an epic map of voice meeting voice, world meeting world–tragic, heartfelt, and vibrant with life.” — Jonathan Lethem, author of Fortress of Solitude


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