All My Mother’s Lover’s: Ilana Masad Book Review

All My Mother’s Lover’s: Ilana Masad Book Review
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When a parent dies before their child recognizes their mother or father as a separate, multifaceted human being, the answers provided after death can transform the person they’re mourning into someone they only partially understand in partially. In Ilana Masad’s debut novel, All My Mother’s Lovers, one of the most crucial matters is: Who are the individuals who created us, and how do they influence who we become?

When Maggie Krause’s brother phones to tell her that their mum, Iris, has died in a car accident, she is in the middle of an orgasm. It’s a scenario that jolts Maggie out of the lifestyle she’s built for herself as a late-twenties gay woman living in St. Louis, making her own path away from her family. In a few hours, she’s back in her family’s house in suburban California, coaxing her brother, Ariel, and their deliriously distraught father into completing all of the obligatory funeral arrangements.

The novel is a mystery, a coming-of-age story, and a road story all rolled into one, written with enough immediacy and interest to be considered a page-turner. Maggie’s loss is compounded by her fury at her mother’s “discomfort” with her being gay, as well as the unsolved intricacy that distress brings.

When Maggie discovers a collection of five unopened notes written by Iris with a request that they “be sent out in the case of her untimely death” in her mother’s will, the narrative really gets going. Each letter is written to a different man, none of whom Maggie is acquainted with. Maggie decides not to attend her mother’s shiva because of the uncertainty, her sadness, and her long-standing rage. 

Instead, she decides to deliver these enigmatic letters by hand and learn more about her mother. “Socially acceptable mourning is twisted up,” Maggie explains. Masad’s novel alternates between Maggie’s and Iris’ viewpoints, skipping across 50 years of Iris’ life and the ten or so days after her death in Maggie’s. We witness Iris as a young lady wedded to an abusive rabbi, as a happy young mum with her second husband, Maggie’s father, Peter.

The novel’s setting and subsequent journey are both fascinating, yet they only reveal a few things about Iris. We meet the story’s lovers, although we never fully comprehend many of Iris’ decisions while in their companionship. The book never completely balances the Iris we know from the Krause home’s family structure with the lady Maggie learns about from these men. Iris is a wonder to the reader just as she is to Maggie.

Nevertheless, the whole family is shrouded in secrecy. They don’t seem to share histories, locations, or even thoughts. In addition, the story balances a perplexing line between socially liberal and literary stereotypes. Maggie is a part of the LGBT+ community who recognizes the luxury of being a “native English speaker with a flat accent” and having a name that “signals whiteness” — all of which creates an exciting, original, current character who, regrettably, slips into plot clichés. 

With a persona like this, it’s somewhat unexpected when the plot devolves into conventional quagmires, as typified by a visit to an omniscient clairvoyant who might easily be found on the Disney Channel.

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