61 pages 2 hours read

Ashley Audrain

The Push: Mother. Daughter. Angel. Monster?

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

The Push: Mother. Daughter. Angel. Monster? is a thriller novel published in 2021 by the Canadian author Ashley Audrain. Most of the story is narrated by the protagonist, Blythe Connor, a mother who suspects that her young daughter may be a coldblooded killer responsible for the deaths of two young boys, including Blythe’s other child. However, Blythe is an unreliable narrator, and the author leaves readers in suspense over whether her suspicions are well-founded—or the consequence of acute anxiety, postpartum depression, and her own childhood trauma. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Audrain called The Push “a psychological drama told through the lens of motherhood.” (Mudhar, Raju. “Meet Ashley Audrain, the Toronto author who has the publishing world buzzing.” Toronto Star, 11 Jun. 2019.)

This study guide refers to the 2021 edition published by Viking.

Plot Summary

Most of the book’s chapters are presented as letters from Blythe to her estranged husband, Fox. Fox now lives with his new partner, Gemma; their toddler son, Jet; and Violet, the teenage daughter of Blythe and Fox.

Blythe narrates the idyllic early days of her relationship with Fox, whom she met in college. After they graduate, Fox becomes a successful architect, and Blythe is a struggling writer. They soon marry, and Fox is eager to have a child. Blythe is more anxious about parenthood; her neglectful mother, Cecilia, abandoned her when she was 11, and Cecilia’s mother, Etta, abused her daughter physically and emotionally. Nevertheless, Blythe agrees to have a child, largely because she hopes to end the cycle of maternal trauma in her family: “I wanted to be anyone other than the mother I came from. And so I wanted a baby, too” (20).

In a difficult labor, Blythe gives birth to baby Violet. For her first five days at home, Violet cries incessantly, causing sleeplessness and severe anxiety for Blythe. She writes, “I felt like the only mother in the world who wouldn’t survive it [...]. The only mother who looked down at her daughter and thought, Please. Go away” (38).

Within a couple months, Violet starts sleeping more regularly, and the mother and daughter fall into a manageable routine. However, Blythe also takes perverse enjoyment in making “decisions other mothers would not make because they weren’t supposed to” (42), like refusing to wipe off the top of a bottle after it falls on a dirty floor. In addition, Blythe begins writing again, and some days she puts on headphones and ignores Violet’s cries, letting her scream for up to two hours. As Violet grows into a toddler, Blythe resents that the girl appears to love her father much more than her mother.

When Violet is in preschool, her teacher tells Blythe and Fox that their daughter occasionally indulges in violent tendencies, twisting one classmate’s fingers until he cries and stabbing another in the thigh with a pencil. Fox is unconcerned, believing that Violet is merely bored and acting out; Blythe, on the other hand, says, “I can’t say I’m surprised” (94).

About a year later, Blythe is at the playground with Violet. She watches as a boy runs across a bridge on a playground structure. As he approaches Violet, he falls off the structure onto his head and is later pronounced dead. Blythe thinks she saw Violet’s leg extend to trip the boy but quickly pushes this thought out of her head.

Shortly thereafter, Blythe begs Fox to have another child: “I wanted another chance at motherhood. I could not concede that I was the problem” (114). She becomes pregnant with a boy, and they name him Sam. Blythe’s experience of birthing, breastfeeding, and caring for Sam as an infant is completely unlike her difficult early days with Violet. Meanwhile, Fox resents that Blythe is so much more attentive and loving with Sam than she was or is with Violet.

One day when Violet is seven and Sam is still a toddler, Blythe takes her children on a walk. The three wait at an intersection with Sam in his stroller. Suddenly, Violet grabs Blythe’s arm, causing her to scald her face with her hot tea. Blythe lets go of the stroller, which rolls into the intersection and is hit by a passing SUV, killing Sam instantly. Emotionally shattered, Blythe tells Fox and the police at the hospital that she saw Violet’s hand push the stroller into the intersection, though they can only shake their heads at the thought.

Over the next two years, Blythe grows more and more alienated from Fox and Violet. Blythe suspects that Fox is cheating on her, and when she confronts him about it he says nothing, confirming her suspicions. She kicks him out of the house, and they enter into a shared custody arrangement for Violet. Blythe’s time with Violet is generally tense and quiet, with Violet occasionally tossing manipulative barbs her mother’s way.

Meanwhile, Blythe starts to spy on Fox’s new partner, whom she learns is his old assistant, Gemma. What’s more, Gemma has a five-month-old child named Jet, and Fox is the father—meaning that Fox impregnated her while he and Blythe were still together. Blythe starts meeting Gemma at a weekly mother’s meetup using a false name, wearing a wig, and pretending as if Sam is still alive. They grow close, until Fox arrives one day to pick Gemma up from the meetup and recognizes Blythe, ending the friendship. Going forward, Violet rarely stays with Blythe unless necessary. Having lost everything and pushed everyone in her life away, Blythe starts to question her recollections of Sam’s death, wondering if it was really a freak accident.

On Christmas Eve, Blythe looks through Fox’s window at his seemingly happy new family. Violet notices her mother and approaches the window. She mouths the words “I pushed him” and aggressively presses her hands against the glass. Rather than escalate the confrontation, Blythe goes home, having finally let go of Fox and Violet.

A year and a half later, Blythe receives a frantic call from Gemma. Through sobs and screams, Gemma tells her, “Something happened to Jet” (303).

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By Ashley Audrain