10 February 2022
Book Review: Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
This is a book I read with Trey, and reading with a friend kept me accountable; however, I would’ve read this on my own without much encouragement. This book was just. that. good.
Let me begin by saying that at moments, I thought Nightbitch was me and I was Nightbitch, her story was so much a reflection of my life experience, my reality, my truth. From her all-too-rational husband to her giving up a career for a family to her crack and dissolution into a very natural chaos from lack of sleep to the six mom-friend Jens, I connected with it all so much that I wondered if Yoder had been spying on my life. Or perhaps she was looking at my life under a microscope as a test subject…as research. Honestly, the parallels are just too much and too overwhelming, so I will not restate them. It would make for a very boring book review. Instead, let me talk about the paradoxical emotions of jealousy and applause the tale invoked within me, the parallel between Nightbitch’s husband and mine and what I learned from it, and this pervasive theme of the link between violence and creation (womanhood, motherhood, darkness, power, etc.).
Let’s start with a few words about Yoder herself. Although I cannot find any bio online that gives her birth date, she looks young. Yet the “About the Author” section of her book informs of her two MFAs, one in fiction from the University of Arizona and the other in nonfiction from the University of Iowa. I mean. Basically, she’s like precisely who I want to be in life, except I’m not entirely convinced I’m interested in fiction.
And then I read this book, and I think, Holy hell, look at this! The book is simple. Neat. Clean in its layout, development, style. Personal in tone. Startlingly streamlined linguistically and structurally. It just seems – doable. And yet it’s simultaneously a fucking masterpiece. Look what Rachel Yoder, this person I want to be, has done! I hate her. I HATE HER. I am so bitterly jealous of this woman right now that my insides curdle like milk mixed with Mountain Dew.
But. But. But it’s so beautiful, and if she is me and I am her, then how can I not be in awe of this creation? How can I not want to give a standing applause, throw bouquets, and HOWL in pure joy? Of course I do. Because I fell in love with Nightbitch, and in her I see Rachel Yoder and in her I see me and I know – I know – that across this world, women are reading this book and seeing similar reflections of themselves and are gaining so much confidence from that reflection. Confidence to see as Nightbitch sees, be as Nightbitch is, and find their freedom through creation. AND I WANT THIS TO BE ME, TOO. Yes, Yoder, I’ll take your cue. It’s time to create. And thank you – THANK YOU – for that permission.
Speaking of permission, let’s talk about Nightbitch’s husband and the parallels to mine and lessons I can take from it. Nightbitch was waiting for permission the entire book to be who she is – to release herself into the wild dark night of her truth. Permission from whom, exactly? From the world, to be fair, but this takes shape in her asking permission from her husband, specifically. On page 204, Yoder writes, “…she handed the boy to him and said, I’m done. You’re going night-nights every weekend night from now on. Thank you.” And later, “Why, she had only ever had to ask! It was so easy.” There is such rumbling truth to this passage. In marriage, and in life, too. How many times have I expected Brian to just know what I needed from him without telling him first? How much easier would my life have been if I’d just asked for what I wanted? For example, a cleaning lady: maintaining a clean house had created so much tension between us. The day I asked for a cleaning lady, it led to a kerfuffle, but ultimately, we got the cleaning lady, my anxiety decreased, the house was cleaner, and Brian and I realized it was making our marriage happier! The same has happened in other areas of our marriage, too. But it spills over beyond the marriage as well, as I mentioned, into life and the greater world. Who do we ask for permission to be an artist? Who do we ask for permission to break societal norms – stifling social restrictions – straitjackets about being a full and whole creative female? For permission to own our creative, violent, powerful truths? Permission to make an art of motherhood?
Who do I need to ask permission to write – and write and write and write without ever stopping or worrying about what anyone else will think or say? NOBODY BUT ME.
You know how I know this is true? Because when Gretchen nodded and told me to write, when Trey said my writing “raised the bar,” I started to write. And I continued to read, and I wrote some more. And then I read Virginia Woolfe’s A Room of One’s Own, and I realized – I’m allowed to do this! NO, I am CALLED and thus OBLIGATED to do this!
And when I did, when I let go of all the societal expectations of me as a mother and a wife, you know what happened? Nothing. My husband’s career didn’t disintegrate, my kids didn’t go unfed or unloved, the house didn’t crumble. Instead, things turned around for me. My anxiety began to dissipate as I started to envision a future and a goal for myself: get published. The more I leaned into this, the happier I became with myself, which then turned into happiness between Brian and me! Then, deeper, more fulfilling relationships between us, between myself and my kids, and between me and my friends.
Just like Nightbitch’s husband when she embraced her inner canine, Brian actually loved me more than before! It’s true! We’re happier in our relationship today than we’ve ever been before, and he is doing everything in his capacity to support my creative calling. Just last week, he created a writing space for me out of nowhere but his own creative mind, squeezing it in between his own hobbies and the kids’ hobbies. In this, Yoder’s story is the embodiment of my own truth, and it blows my ever-loving mind.
Okay – I’m running out of time to write, here, but I want to finish this out. Of late, themes of the link between motherhood and violence have been crossing my social media feeds and capturing my attention. Of course, traditionally, literature links light with good and dark with evil; Yoder flips that binary upside down, revealing that it is within the deepest darkness that creation occurs. Is this the siren song of Lilith? Everything created has its beginning in the dark: plant seeds, animal seeds, and yes, ART. So many philosophers and psychologists point to that mental down time as the origin of creative thinking. It is from the void that our best ideas are realized and take root and thus grow. This lesson is too important to gloss over in Yoder’s text. Nightbitch is a creature of darkness: she finds her truth in the deep of night, rolling in moss, unearthing decomposing animals, peeing on bushes, reveling in streams, tearing the heads from mice and listening as their hearts stop beating.
…which brings me to the undeniable link between the feminine and violence, a link I discovered in myself when attempting to force Keira to take a bottle so that Brian could feed her at night and I could finally SLEEP. My body, already creating another life (my son), was tapping out, and it was taking my mind with it. That day, I snapped, violently, flinging the bottle across the room, shattering a bowl and exploding formula out over the walls, curtains, and carpet. Yoder talks about the violence of birth itself, which I know dearly from birthing Grant without pain medications, and yet, that violence isn’t over once the child has exited that tract to life. The violence is innate. It resonates long after birth, never diminishing. In fact, perhaps it only grows, accelerates, with age.
Yoder’s explicit identification of this link between the female, violence, creation, and power was timely for me. I’ll take it, and I’ll use it – and it will fuel my creativity. As I’ve said before, the thematic connection between writing and pregnancy is undeniable. And at this point in my life, there is nothing more important than to see this pregnancy through birth: I will publish. I don’t know how I’ll get there, but I’m on my way, and nothing in my life has ever been more exciting.
Yeah. Nightbitch was a timely read, for me. But…it would be a timely read for anyone, any gender, old or young. And because it spoke such volumes to me about my dreams, my love, and my potential, the book will never be too far out of my reach. It will take up space just beside my writing desk to remind me of who I am and the power I yield.