Review: Hard Mother, Spider Mother, Soft Mother


The fourth installment of FUTURES is by Hal Y. Zhang and is maybe one of the more intimate reads of the series. It’s a layered, emotionally resonate piece of literary, near future science fiction that encapsulates whole lives in under 25 pages.

Ellery Lang moves back in with her mother, Valerie Lang, after finishing school in her late 20s. Recently, her mother has begun spouting increasingly weird theories, bordering on conspiracy. Then, just like that Valerie leaves, and in doing so creates a cascade of confusion and pain for Ellery. Their society is constantly under surveillance, and people have “personalizations” that now part of their lives, which Ellery’s mother abhors. Valerie managed to stay in a time long gone, which creates even murkier circumstances of where she could have gone, making it harder for the authorities and Ellery to find her.

Playing with themes of memory, relationship, and knowledge of our parents, Zhang creates a piercing story about mothers and their daughters. Ellery does not remember her father, or even if there ever was one in fact. Despite everything now being recorded, her own memory cannot recall exactly what her childhood was like or if her mother was always like this? She did not live with her mother as an adult until recently and this change has clear ramifications, ones that escalates the the conflict throughout this brief story.

Zhang’s portrayal of Ellery is layered and pointedly written. She is both compelled to find her mother, but also repelled by her difficulties with her. While, she sorts through these feelings she is also trying to grasp who her mother is, which for me, whose mother passed away a few years ago resonated with me deeply. Its hard to try and understand your parents, especially as an adult, when you are making either similar or different choices that your own parents made at your age. This reflection is one that made me pause while reading and I have to commend Zhang for unintentionally giving rise to those feelings.

In short, if you’re in the mood for a quiet, but deeply powerful  story, then look no further than this slice of prose from Zhang.


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