Publication Date: January 25th, 2022
Hardcover. 240 pages.
"The fourteen spellbinding stories in Michelle Ross’s second collection invite readers into the shadows of social-media perfectionism and the relentless cult of motherhood. A recovering alcoholic navigates the social landscape of a toddler playdate; a mother of two camps out in a van to secure her son’s spot at a prestigious kindergarten; a young girl forces her friends to play an elaborate, unwinnable game. With unflinching honesty and vivid, lyrical prose, Ross explores the familial ties that bind us together—or, sometimes, tear us apart."
Shapeshifting is a collection of short stories centered around the theme of motherhood, ranging from dry humor to dystopian in nature, but maintaining an overarching layer of authenticity and realism that kept everything grounded.
I really appreciated how well Ross was able to convey the various traumas and feelings that surround being a mother, becoming a mother, and the ways in which the world around us perceives mothers and motherhood, from all different angles and world views. This collection is at times frightening, hilarious, sobering, tragic, and enlightening, and I found it exceptionally difficult to put down at many different points while reading it.
There are alway a few stories in any collection of stories that particularly stand out to me, and in Shapeshifting some of these stories were "What Doesn't Kill You," "That Natural Order of Things," and "The Pregnancy Game" (though rest assured all of the other stories are just as great!). "What Doesn't Kill You" follows Annabelle, a grandmother who tells of her experiences and relationship with her granddaughter and daughter-in-law while maintaining a very particular yet somewhat morbid obsession that really sets the overall tone for the entire story in the best way possible. I liked the subtle nuances that Ross included in her telling of this story–and in fact it is this nuanced subtlety that is present throughout many of these stories that make them so compelling. In the same way, "The Natural Order of Things" explores meditations on the meanings around age and the certainties of life that plague us through one mother's plane trip next to an overly talkative neighbor.
I myself am not a mother, so can't speak to shared personal experiences, but it very much fits many of the sentiments I've heard from women and their stories, as well as some of my own anxieties around motherhood. I think Shapeshifting is a great feminist insight into the depths of motherhood and all that is encompassed with the expectations and pressures of the society that surrounds us. Overall, I've given this collection four stars!
*I received a copy of Shapeshifters in exchange for an honest review.*