Sure, Julianna Baggot’s ‘Pure’ may well be a post-apocalyptic novel centering around the adventures of four knife-wielding teenagers but, to me, as a very-much-in-the-present-middle-aged-and-stressed-out mother, there is much I can relate to.
Imagine this scene:
You have lost your grip over your teenage sprogs, who have abandoned ship. You were rather hoping that, once settled, they would let you know of their whereabouts and, every once in a while, message you to keep you up to date on their wellbeing score.
You hear nothing.
The days turn into weeks, and even months, and your own anxiety levels are off the top of the gauge. You turn on the news, and learn about the increase in violent crime is forcing young people into carrying weapons of self-defence, just in case they should fall victim to any of the numerous marauding gangs, all so poor and desperate, that they are terrorising cities, destroying properties and collecting up anything that moves – be it animal, human or hybrid – for their ongoing sustenance!
It is unlikely, of course, that your own sprogs are being cooked up. The truth is that you are suffering from empty-nest syndrome and you have over-thought yourself into an hallucinatory state. If only, you think. If only your sprogs had remained newborn; newborn and forever unable to get themselves up to walk, run and take-off without you!
To console yourself, you go for a soup-bowl sized mug of caramel-sweetened Latte in your favourite cafe. You pick up a teaspoon and scoop off the cream topping. It tastes delicious, and you settle down to slurp up the rest, whilst reading your favourite novel in blissful unaccompanied peacefulness.
But, barely have you finished reading the opening paragraph, than the silence is disturbed by a load of bickering. Some mother’s sprogs don’t want the 50p Babycinos – instead, they are demanding mint-chocolate milkshakes with price-tags closer to £4!
The mother ignores them.
She is busy trying to work out how to fish her cash card out of her back-pack when she’s got a small baby stuck fast to her front in a baby-sling sucking the life out of her.
Unable to get their mother’s attention, the sprogs start to bicker with each other instead.
And, in all the kerfuffle, the baby, not wanting to be left out of the furore playing out between its siblings, becomes unstuck and starts crying.
The mother starts flapping.
The cashier starts tapping her ring-finger on the counter; she’s got other customers to serve. The next customer in the queue, an old lady, who’s forgotten all about the reality of parenting, starts complaining about the wait and dishes out advice to the terribly incompetent mother about giving her offspring a good hiding, etc.
Your was-about-to-be-a-favourite novel, feeling neglected, falls to the floor.
And you watch, with horror (and fascination), as the ticked-off mother, cash-card forgotten about, starts yelling at the old lady about how much she’d like to give her a good hiding instead.
Sounds familiar? That’s because the aforementioned stressed-out mother is your younger self, the you that you once were before your little darlings abandoned you. Perhaps, you think. Perhaps, you won’t after all, be adopting any replacements!
In this imaginary scenario, I have pretty much summed up what I see as the main theme of ‘Pure’. It’s not so much about teenagers, as it is about empty-nest syndrome. The moral of the tale being to ‘be careful what you wish for’. Do you really want to mollycoddle your sprogs forever, to stop them from growing up, and to protect them from the big bad world out there?
Perhaps you need to bear witness to your wish through the eyes of one of Baggott’s teenage characters:
‘As the crowd moves closer, Partridge sees that the children are not just with their mothers. They’re attached. The first woman … walks with an uneven gait. The child who’d seemed to be holding on to her leg is actually fused there. Legless, the boy has only one arm, and his torso and head protrude from her upper thigh. Another woman has eyes peering out from a bulbous baby head that sits like a goiter on her neck.’ (pp.246-247)
Need a moment to reconsider? Has your wish come true? Or might you (with a little help from Baggott) have just conjured up your worst nightmare?
Copyright of review owned by Jay Cool, August 2019