Title: Just Like Mother
Author: Anne Heltzel
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Date of Publication: May 17, 2022
A girl would be such a blessing…
The last time Maeve saw her cousin was the night she escaped the cult they were raised in. For the past two decades, Maeve has worked hard to build a normal life in New York City, where she keeps everything—and everyone—at a safe distance.
When Andrea suddenly reappears, Maeve regains the only true friend she’s ever had. Soon she’s spending more time at Andrea’s remote Catskills estate than in her own cramped apartment. Maeve doesn’t even mind that her cousin’s wealthy work friends clearly disapprove of her single lifestyle. After all, Andrea has made her fortune in the fertility industry—baby fever comes with the territory.
The more Maeve immerses herself in Andrea’s world, the more disconnected she feels from her life back in the city; and the cousins’ increasing attachment triggers memories Maeve has fought hard to bury. But confronting the terrors of her childhood may be the only way for Maeve to transcend the nightmare still to come…
Just Like Mother is an atmospheric, twisted story that starts off innocuous enough, but gradually evolves into a horrific nightmare fuel.
After an explosive first chapter, the novel is slow paced as Heltzel sets the stage for what eventually becomes a twisted and disturbing story. At first, the book reads like a mild psychological thriller, but the author gradually weaves in the terror until a horrifying and quite satisfying conclusion. The pacing reflects this, in that it’s quite slow to start, but the events gain momentum as the story progresses, leading to a book that no one can question being a true horror novel.
Maeve is a survivor from a cult, which was disbanded when she was only eight years old, but the damage is long lasting. The book mostly focuses on present day events, when Maeve is thirty-three years old, but there are flashbacks throughout. They almost read as an additional timeline, but they jump back and forth. The majority of the flashbacks are to when Maeve has already left the cult and is adopted by a nice elderly couple. I was initially disappointed by this – why read a book about a cult without flashbacks to the horrors of the cult? But Heltzel’s writing is far more subtle than that. Sure, we’re following Maeve after the “good stuff” has happened, but we can infer a heck of a lot from observing her time being integrated into normal society afterward. We can glean the gist of what happened to her from her reactions and interpretations of the world around her. This allows the reader to use their imagination, with just enough handholding and flashbacks to her time at the commune to truly traumatize the reader.
Even the author’s writing and stylistic choices seemed to be designed to unsettle. For example, the present-day timeline is told in past tense, but in flashbacks, the author reverts to present tense. As a reader, this set me slightly off-kilter and added to my overall sense of unease.
This book has strong themes of motherhood and the patriarchy. This comes about in some obvious ways–not the least of which is the “Mother Collective”, which is the commune that Maeve was raised on, which clearly does not value the Y chromosome.
While the first half of the book was very slow paced, as it was setting the stage for what was to come, it was also quite predictable. There are several twists in the plot that almost weren’t twists. I knew what was coming, but that almost made it a more difficult read. The dread I felt was almost palpable, knowing what was going on behind the scenes, and wondering how Maeve would react after the big reveal.
All in all, this is a horror novel that explores some tough issues of motherhood and feminism gone wrong. While not particularly horrifying in the beginning, stick around till the end and you’ll definitely have some quality nightmare fuel to keep you up late at night.
*Thank you to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for the ebook to review*
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