“It’s ultimately about empathy; whether you can take someone else’s pain as seriously as you take your own,” says Helen Phillips of her highly anticipated novel The Need (Simon & Schuster, 2019).
Released less than a week ago, Phillips’s fifth book garnered high praise even before it hit the shelves on July 9th, landing highly coveted spots on recommended reading lists and being lauded by The New York Times, O Magazine, and other esteemed writers.
The Need’s protagonist, Molly, is a hardworking mother of two, juggling parenthood and paleobotany as best she can with her oft-absent husband. The novel deftly and candidly explores the taxing demands of motherhood and the complicated, nuanced feelings that can arise when a woman is giving all of herself to the pint-sized autocrats that are her young children.
One night, while her husband is away, Molly hears a noise in her home and concludes that it is an intruder. What follows after that opening scene is a series of events marked by tension—complete with pithy chapters that mirror the pacing—as her worlds start to collide, leading to a bizarre conclusion in this cross-genre, psychological oeuvre. Notably present also are interspersals of humor, which may surprise readers in what they might otherwise deem a grim tale.
Phillips, who also has two children, notes that the harrowing book is not autobiographical, though the thriller’s genesis was, in part, inspired by a particularly scary evening years ago: she heard a disturbing noise in the house while all alone nursing her daughter. “I had this animal fear,” she recounts, “instinctual… I wondered how I would protect her.”
The untimely death of Phillips’s older sister the same summer her daughter was born also influenced her approach to the text: “My heart was exploding with love and grief… How do you bear all the love and grief that is present in life?” These, and other questions humanity grapples with, comprise some of the novel’s complexity and ethos. The book examines the quotidian and mundane, the uncanny and grotesque, the academic and professional, and much in between.
Helen Phillips will be in Seattle today, Tuesday July 16th to discuss this intriguing work, The Need, at The Elliott Bay Book Company in Capitol Hill. The event begins at 7:00 pm. Free and open to the public.
To learn more about Helen Phillips, visit her website: helencphillips.com