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Book Review: Someone let the dogs out in "Nightbitch"

There’s nothing like stumbling upon a book that makes you go, “What the fuck?” Rachel Yoder’s 2021 debut novel “Nightbitch” was my WTF moment recently. I first heard about the contemporary novel when it was announced it was to be developed into a film with Amy Adams––so naturally, I had to track it down. And boy, “Nightbitch” is a wild and strange ride.

A stay-at-home mom we know as ‘Nightbitch’ believes she’s turning into a dog after finding a patch of course hair on the back of her neck, and experiencing some…primal changes. Sharper canines. Growing a tail. Urges to eat raw meat. Howling at the moon. Her nonchalant husband dismisses her concerns and indulges her alter-ego. As the unnamed protagonist seems to transform more and more into a canine, she seeks guidance in a mysterious book on mystical women. She becomes entangled with a group of neighborhood mommies involved in a multilevel marketing scheme.

Yoder’s examinations of motherhood, violence, art, and feminism are hashed out throughout Nightbitch’s metamorphosis. The anonymous protagonist choice allows readers to place themselves into Nightbitch’s shoes, eliciting readers' unexpected feelings of guilt, shame, and anger if they really immerse themselves. The pressures of motherhood and being an artist mirror one another––at times blending into one. Despite not being a mother myself, Nightbitch’s observations and behaviors somehow make sense with the excruciating pressure, stress, and expectations modern mothers must deal with daily due to societal norms.

Weaving the themes of art and motherhood together with the canine transformation was a bold choice from Yoder. Although the dots connect all the novel’s themes, it felt like something was missing. The cathartic ending should’ve wrapped up the story with a pretty bow but left something to be desired. Without spoiling anything, the mother’s performance art show was too expected for my liking––a messier or cliff-hanging ending would’ve satisfied me, personally. I’m all for some self-actualization in characters, but for “Nightbitch,” I so desperately wanted her to go absolutely apeshit and fully embrace the canine alter ego in greater capacity––but alas, we can’t always get what we want.

In addition to the lackluster ending, the novel's first half could have been cut down to some extent. By the second half, it was hard to put down “Nightbitch,” but the first half dragged. Also, the son’s constant appearance–which, I know, she’s a mother, but goodness gracious, I could’ve done without the paragraphs on the son’s antics and her monologues about him.

Wholly original and unexpected, “Nightbitch” is an intriguing examination of motherhood, art, power, and feminism with the perfect dose of absurdity within the suburban setting.

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