Sometimes a story stays with you.
Not because of the story or the characters or the surprise ending, though. Sometimes a story just stays with you because you recognize it.
I recognized this story. Well, it’s more accurate to say that I recognized myself in this story.
Little Darlings, by Melanie Golding, tells the story of Lauren, an exhausted new mother of twins. After a scary moment in the hospital in which she thinks she sees a woman try and take her babies, she goes home and tries to settle into her new life. Things get weird, though, after the babies leave her sight for just a moment in the park.
The story is a modern take on the changeling myth: a Celtic myth in which a human infant is stolen by a fairy and a not-quite-human is left in their place. The changeling is indistinguishable from the human baby, but because it isn’t human, it exposes its true identity as it grows into a human-like thing but with grotesque or deformed characteristics.
This book is scary, but not for the supernatural or dark fairy tale aspects; it is scary because of the realness of Lauren’s postpartum experience. I felt it so hard.
During her postpartum recovery, Lauren saw a woman sneak into her hospital room and try to take her newborns. The police were called, the hospital staff sprung into action and checked it all out, but nothing was amiss. Poor Lauren was simply exhausted, right? After all, she just gave birth to twins. Think of the hormones!
Lauren’s husband, the hospital staff, and even her friends area all very condescending and dismissive. Kinda pissed me off, actually. A woman can be exhausted and correct at the same time, you know. Grr.
Exhaustion is serious, though, especially just after giving birth. I wrote of my own auditory hallucinations after I had my daughter, and it wasn’t a one-time thing. My breast pump also “spoke” to me.
It wasn’t all bad. Sometimes the pump was in a good mood and entertained me with the robotic part of the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic.”
I heard things for a little while, but it stopped soon enough. The biggest problem with this experience, however, was the self doubt it planted. I felt unmoored, unsure, and didn’t trust a single thought that crossed my mind.
It’s that horrible feeling of a persistent mild disorientation that makes this novel so scary. Lauren trusts nothing and no one, including herself. She looks at her babies one day and sees that they are not-quite-right, but she has lost the ability to trust her instincts. It doesn’t help that her husband is condescending and selfish during this time, but that’s a whole other rant.
Also scary is the way that Lauren’s four walls begin to close in on her. She is shackled to her bed by invisible chains as she must be ready to breastfeed two babies at a moment’s notice. Her world becomes really small, really fast. I felt this too.
I lived on my couch or the rocker in my room, and that’s about it. I went about as far as the pump could reach without being pulled off the end table and wore a path back and forth to the kitchen sink where the bottles lived. I remember the day I looked up and swore that my popcorn ceiling was reaching down to the top of my head the moment I took my eyes off it.
Golding writes a good story. It’s horror, really. Changelings are terrifying; the myth reflects our fear as parents that something is lurking in our children, waiting for the right moment to show itself. We desperately seek to hold eye-contact, count their words, chart their milestones, and run to the pediatrician at a moment’s notice.
Little Darlings puts on uncomfortable display some of the most terrifying moments of early motherhood. Lauren’s crusty and smelly, she’s talking a little bit crazy, and she’s very scared. That is an authentic experience.
This is a good, fast, and unsettling read. An old folk tale is just as scary in the blue light of the television as it is in the dark woods, and Golding wields it with expertise.
Don’t give this book to your pregnant or new mom friends, though. It’s best read with a little distance.
Until next time!