The Need by Helen Phillips

"The need to go home. The need to dispense with this intruder, this nightmare, and return to two small impeccable bodies. the excruciating need."

As we all adjust to the new normal of staying home to help ease the threat of Covid-19, we are also finding our own ways to deal with the stress and uncertainty of the situation. More so than ever, I'm turning to books to help keep my mind off of the real world. One of the best parts of staying home has been having ample time to tackle some of the books that have been gathering dust on my 'to be read' list. The Need by Helen Phillips is one such title. I was drawn to it for its brief length (about 270 pages), but it was the tantalizing premise that ultimately captured my attention to the point that I read it in a single sitting.

The pit is the one place Molly feels she is able to escape the monotony of everyday life. As a paleobotanist, she has discovered numerous fossils that are believed to be the first of their kind. Perhaps more curious though are the other artifacts that were in the pit with them. There is a Coca-Cola bottle with a label that is slightly off from any known to have been produced, a shiny penny that was minted in the present day (could it have slipped from Molly's pocket?), and a tiny bible containing controversial text. The bible, in particular, has garnered the most interest. On the bright side, tourists are gathering at the dig site daily to see the oddities that have been unearthed. They bring a welcomed increase in revenue to keep the operation afloat. But just like that shiny penny, there are two sides to this coin. The second side is full of hate mail and threats of violence.

At home, Molly is having a hard time seeing past the tedium of motherhood. Sure, she loves her kids. She delights in being able to introduce four-year-old Viv and one-year-old Ben to the everyday wonders of the world, but weekends like these make it hard to remember those joys. Her husband is on a weeklong business trip, Viv's birthday party is a day away, and she's just come home to find that Viv has written all over the walls. Oh, and she still needs to go grocery shopping. " What a thing it was, grocery shopping, so tedious and so crucial." I don't know that I've ever related to a quote more!

As Molly wrangles the children she catches a glimpse of what she thought were footsteps between the crack of the door. Surely her mind must be playing tricks on her. Between the stresses of work and caring for the kids, she must be imagining things. But then again, what if she isn't? Could that be the sound of footsteps just on the other side of the door? She's turned the lights off and quieted the children, bringing them both close against her. There they are again, breaks in that thin beam of light between the floor and the door. Is she going crazy? This is all too much to bear. Her mind has to be playing tricks on her. She turns the lights back on, opens the door to her obviously empty spare room, and begins to prepare dinner. Molly is flooded with the relief of that empty room, absolved of the self-inflicted horrors of her overactive imagination. That's when she notices Viv peering into the other room and hears her mutter, "who's that guy?"

In The Need, author Helen Phillips draws the reader in with the urgent anxiety of expectation and doesn't let go until the final page. Beyond the brilliant setup, Phillips employs brisk writing with short cliffhanger chapters to keep the pace rolling. I found myself saying, "just one more chapter" to the point that I ultimately breezed through the entire novel. Phillips juxtaposes this momentum with a raw, often understated contemplation on motherhood. Yes, there is an out of this world narrative, but The Need ultimately succeeds as the portrayal of Molly coming to terms with her position as a wife, mother, and professional. There is this transcendent bond between mother and child, the kind of intimacy that can rarely be captured in words. Yet somehow Phillips has done just that. At first, I didn't know what to make of the ending. As the last page turned, I felt almost as if the novel was nothing but a winding buildup. Upon deeper reflection though, I think that buildup is exactly the point of The Need. We witness Molly's unwavering need to educate, nurture, and protect her children. That is what motherhood is about, and that is what The Need beautifully portrays.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 11)

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 9, 2020 and is filed under ,,,,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

22 Responses to “The Need by Helen Phillips”

  1. Another book to add to my TBR list! :D

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  2. I do enjoy cliffhanger chapters! Sandra Brown, one of my favorite authors, is a pro with them. I'm super curious about this one. Yet another one I'll be looking into. Fab review, Ethan! :)

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    1. Sandra Brown is one author I've heard so much about but have never read. I do like a good cliffhanger!

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  3. Wow, this sounds like a great read. I especially like that this book juxtaposes the momentum with a contemplation on motherhood.

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    1. It was a really strong balance between both elements.

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  4. I was laughing about the shopping quote, because I am trying to unwind from my weekly trip, AKA the weekly ordeal. Sounds like the author took you through an interesting progression there, and seems like a thought provoking take on motherhood.

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    1. The sad thing is, cooking has always been one of my escapes each day. Now it is such an ordeal to even get the essentials!

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  5. I am intrigued. I also hate grocery shopping and tend to buy a few weeks' worth at a time anyway, just so I don't have to go every week except for easy things like milk or eggs. Then COVID-19 hit and now everyone is doing the same thing, ugh. Tedious and crucial, indeed. And also potentially deadly now, but who is worried about that? (/S, of course!)

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    1. ...aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand I just downloaded it from my library!

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    2. I've always shopped for my week, but this has made things way more difficult than they need to be.

      And Yay! Your library finally had one of my recommended books! Did you opt for the ebook or audio?

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    3. I went with ebook, I am not into audio books, except when it is the long car ride home to see family and Eleanor has fallen asleep. I finished it tonight already. I will be honest and say I did not love it.

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  6. This definitely sounds like the movies I tend to watch, but I'd love to read a book like this as well! I love when books make you feel anxious and won't let you go until you finish the final page with a sigh!

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  7. Ooh this does sound like a book that really grabs hold of the reader, you know? I am trying to use this time at home to read more of the books on my own shelves as well.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. This is the perfect excuse to finally tackle all of those books!

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  8. Fantastic review.. you sold this one. Glad you are able to escape into a book.

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  9. I'm so curious now about what went thump in the other room and about those curious artifacts. Glad it distracted you well.

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    1. It really had a great balance between the suspense and character development. A nearly perfect book!

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  10. This sounds fabulous! Molly sounds like a character that I could relate to and the mystery of the items found at the dig site sound really well done. Thanks for putting this one on my radar!

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