Shirley Jackson meets Jordan Peele in this tale (thriller? sci-fi nightmare? mommy blog gone sideways?) of a young mother/paleobotanist whose life is upended by an intruder. In "The Need" by Helen Phillips, Molly is every woman who’s juggled an infant, a 4-year-old, a full-time job and a husband who travels. Her days are exhausting, tedious, mind-numbing, terror-filled. She’s dealing with this kind of stuff: “Oh, but Viv did not want to take a bath. She could remember the last time she had taken a bath and she did not like to take a new bath until she had forgotten her old bath.” That, and lots and lots of lactation. To be honest, anyone’s mind might snap.
So is that what’s happening in this page-turner? Hard to say. There are hints of biblical violence and fissures in the time-space continuum, or maybe it’s just a fever dream. The short, pulse-pounding chapters keep the tension ratcheted up to 11, but darned if you ever really know what’s going on. Neither does Molly, who vacillates between murderous impulse and welcoming acceptance. To say “The Need” is a twisted version of every mother’s guilty fantasy is not so far a stretch.