Caeli Wolfson Widger explores the darker side of biotechnology in ‘Mother of Invention’

Title: Mother of Invention 
Author: Caeli Wolfson Widger
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Little A
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Length: 363 pages
Available: 22 May 2018


“It’s no longer a question of whether women can do it all. It’s just assumed that we will. It’s assumed that we can be great careerists and mothers and spouses and still magically keep the laundry in check.”

mother-of-invention.w300Tessa Callahan, author of Pushing Through: A Handbook for Young Women in the New World is the Sheryl Sandberg in this satirized version of Silicon Valley. Together with Luke, the son of the late Reed Zimmerman — founder of the social media medium LikeMe — she is working towards a future where women can truly have it all: pregnancy, career, happy marriages. By using bio-technical advances, Tessa and Zimmerman cut pregnancy from nine months to nine weeks. This shortened gestation period would mean women can get back to work fast, erasing the fear that starting a family would mean the end of a woman’s ambition.

But what Tessa doesn’t realize is that both Luke and the American Government have other plans for this new biotechnology. And know the truth about what happens to children who’d been the product of the natural shortened gestation period that inspired this experiment to begin with.

“No matter how hard we work, no matter how much we achieve, one immutable fact remains: we are expected to bear children.”

What Caeli Wolfson Widger creates in Mother of Invention is a book that can be enjoyed as purely a superficial, fast-paced thriller. There are elements of romance, government conspiracy, and science fiction that are all entirely believable. But what I loved about Mother of Invention was that, for me, it posed the question I’ve been grappling with for a long time: what matters more, career or family? Can I have both? Do I need to have both?

While Widger doesn’t delve into the argument of the “natural role” of women versus where many of our ambitions lead us, the question is still posed. I was left thinking, not just about whether or not a shortened gestation period for growing a child could be the “cure” for the family versus career argument. I also was left wondering if, should I choose to have a family one day, if nine weeks versus nine months was enough time to prepare myself for my role of mother versus wife, or girlfriend, or partner, or whatever.

“No matter how empowered women are, no matter how badass their careers are, no matter how much money they make, those things are second-tier achievements…Motherhood is the first tier.”

So while other critics might not have felt Widger dove into the politics of her novel enough, I felt she left the discussion open to her readers. By leaving Tessa’s thoughts about the ethics of what she was doing, and the ripple effect it could have on society, out of the majority of the book, we are free to decide for ourselves what we’d want for our future. Women shouldn’t need a Handbook for Young Women in the New World. We should be able to consider our options and take our futures into our own hands. Societal pressures be damned.

Going into Mother of Invention, I was prepared for a dark, Handmaid’s Tale-like view of our future. Instead, I was forced to confront my own feelings about career, motherhood, and the idea of playing god with human creation.

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