Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
“To what identities do women turn when those available to them fail? How do women expand their identities to encompass all parts of their beings?”
Explorations of female rage always make for an interesting read, to me – but Nightbitch managed to pique my interest further. What if rage became so all-encompassing that a woman literally turned into a dog? Ok, you have my attention. This literary trope of transplanting something which sounds like a fairy tale into the recognizable blandness of modern society may be a little derivative, but Nightbitch does it marvelously. By making the obvious (yet often unspoken) connections between motherhood and ferality, Yoder creates a world that is menacing, frightening, and, dare we acknowledge it, a little bit exciting, too. The unnamed mother at the center of this novel makes many comments about the vulgarity and foulness at the center of becoming a mother. In fact, motherhood is portrayed as as much a body horror as transmogrifying into a dog.
“This thing comes from us, she would explain in interviews. It rips its way out of us, literally tears us in two, in a wash of great pain and blood and shit and piss.”
The scenes in which she describes the birth of her child, alongside the incessant fixation on her son’s scatology, really bring to the fore how mothers and children are truly animals. Far more so, in fact, than the sanitized, bland character of her child’s father, who seems far away and disconnected from the bizarre phenomena taking place in his wife’s body.
The titular Nightbitch becomes hairier, angrier, and hungrier than any acceptable figure of femininity has any right to be. The movement from the maternal towards the canine works well as an exploration of these most unfeminine of urges. But by the same stroke, her canine-ification works (up to a point) at helping her deal with the mundanity and ferality of motherhood.
“She is becoming a better mother because she is becoming a better dog! Dogs don’t need to work. Dogs don’t care about art.”
As the Nightbitch’s transformation intensifies, she becomes close with a group of other moms, all named Jen. At first, you may expect this group to act as a foil to the Nightbitch’s most unacceptable urges, but as we get to know them, we see how dark and weird these characters are, too. When the Nightbitch attempts to alarm the group with her admission of animal murder, it’s revealed that each of the moms has a shrugged-off story of killing a household pet. Motherhood, it seems, makes one unshockable.
At the center of the story is the Nightbitch’s struggle with being believed. Her husband doesn’t think her excess body hair, growing teeth, or potential tail are anything to worry about, and she fears visiting a doctor because she knows they will not understand. Yet the Nightbitch is crying out for attention, too. In one memorable scene, she flips a table in a restaurant during a particularly dull conversation – but this pure expression of rage is then revealed to be just another fantasy. Is an overt display of rudeness and anger just as out of reach to the perfect mother as becoming an actual werewolf?
Annie Walton Doyle is a 20-something writer based in Manchester, UK. She typically writes about beauty and other “personal aesthetics,” with a healthy dose of both social commentary and stupidity. When not touching makeup or reading books, she enjoys pubs, knitting, nature, and mysteries.