Monday, July 8, 2019

The Need by Helen Phillips

The Need by Helen Phillips
Published July 2019 by Simon Schuster
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
When Molly, home alone with her two young children, hears footsteps in the living room, she tries to convince herself it’s the sleep deprivation. She’s been hearing things these days. Startling at loud noises. Imagining the worst-case scenario. It’s what mothers do, she knows.

But then the footsteps come again, and she catches a glimpse of movement.

Suddenly Molly finds herself face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. As she attempts to protect those she loves most, Molly must also acknowledge her own frailty. Molly slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood: the ecstasy and the dread; the languor and the ferocity; the banality and the transcendence as the book hurtles toward a mind-bending conclusion.

My Thoughts:
When Phillips' The Beautiful Bureaucrat was publisher in 2015, I heard a lot of great things about it, including that it was great mind-bending fun. I've never gotten to that one but when The Need became available, I knew I'd want to give her writing a shot.

Mind-bending might be an understatement. The Need is one of those books that, when you turn the last page, leaves you asking "what the heck did I just read?" It also left me wondering why I don't seek out more books that leave me asking that question because I was left asking it in the best of ways. It is a book unlike anything I've read before. What genre is it? Psychological thriller? Yes. Science-fiction? Yes. With its focus on the struggles of woman as mother, it might best be considered women's fiction.
“She was always hurrying to get ready for work, hurrying to put the groceries away … every single thing in life shoved between the needs of a pair of people who weighed a cumulative 57 pounds.”
Molly has been thrown off since the birth of Viv four years ago. Like so many mothers of young children, she is torn between a love so deep she spends a lot of time terrified about their well-being and an exhaustion so overwhelming that she feels a desperate need for a break from them. I think everyone who has ever lived with small children, and their constant need for attention and care, their constant mishaps and demands, can relate to Molly. Maintaining your own sanity can be an issue. The question here is has Molly lost her tenuous hold on her sanity? Or has she, in her own work, created an issue that will threaten her family?

Phillips keeps things moving at a rapid pace and, with movement back and forth in time, she keeps readers off balance and constantly recalibrating. To the extent that, a one point I reopened the book to the wrong bookmark and I wasn't entirely sure that I was rereading something I had already read or if Phillips had me looking at a previous part of the book with a new twist.

Phillips asks more questions than she answers in The Need. Sometimes, that's just what I need in a book.


  1. Wow. This sounds like a good book for my book club! I like a story that really makes me think. This one sounds a bit like Dark Matter (Blake Crouch).

  2. Oh, wow - this sounds really intriguing! Sounds like the author perfectly captures motherhood, and your description of a psychological thriller crossed with sci fi sounds great!

    I hadn't heard of this one yet, so thanks for the heads up!


    2019 Big Book Summer Challenge

  3. I liked The Beautiful Bureaucrat a lot; very odd and different. I'll have to check this one out as well.