Mother, a generous noun.
A concept assigned to you for simply carrying and birthing a child.
A word that betrays the child.
In Natural Behavior, we meet Lily – a child left to raise herself in a state of deep negligence and a young woman who has never let anyone in. Through short, arresting chapters, the novel cuts between Lily as a child growing up with an absent mother and Lily as an adult who has just birthed her first baby. In raw and unapologetic prose, the critically lauded novelist Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde asks difficult questions about what it really means to have and to be a mother.
Lily in the present is paralyzed by fear that she is destined to fail as a mother because her own mother failed her so utterly. When her baby opens his eyes for the first time, her instinctive thought is that he has lost out by being born to her. Her fear is exacerbated by the fact that she is so utterly alone with it. Because no one knows the truth about who Lily really is. For over two decades, she has created a façade of a well-adjusted and successful young career woman. She has friends, a boyfriend with whom she shares a renovated apartment on a swanky address, and an impressive job as a lawyer. Everyone thinks Lily grew up with a single mother who died long before – the details are murky, but people tend not to ask too much and Lily is an expert at maneuvering social conversation. But when she is confronted with her own motherhood, Lily’s carefully controlled reality begins to crumble. And when Lily learns that the mother she has been estranged from for so long is dying, she must bid farewell to the person who both defined her and abandoned her as a child.
In a parallel narrative, we meet Lily as a precocious child. Her mother works nights and takes pains to rarely overlap with her daughter in their small apartment. Lily has what she needs to keep herself fed and dressed, but the apartment is devoid of the love and warmth Lily is starving for. When Lily is gifted a cat to keep her company, she sees the gesture as her mother’s final attempt to replace herself. No person can thrive without emotional sustenance and the lonely child seeks comfort where she can. In an animal, in a neighbor who shows kindness, in being “good” and achieving.
Natural Behavior is an emotionally brutal and intellectually nimble novel that asks if it is possible to give to our children something that we have not ourselves been given.