In this surreal novel about motherhood, a mom slowly turns into a bloodthirsty dog

Published 28th July 2021
Rachel Yoder's "Nightbitch" is slated to be made into a movie.
Credit: Courtesy Doubleday
In this surreal novel about motherhood, a mom slowly turns into a bloodthirsty dog
Written by Brienne Walsh, CNN
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When Rachel Yoder set out to write a book about the overwhelming rage, loneliness and love she felt in the early days of motherhood, she wanted to make sense of the identity loss that accompanied her two-year hiatus from work. But she also wanted to have a little fun.
Thus, rather than a conventional narrative that mined her own experiences, Yoder created "Nightbitch," a novel about a woman who, after giving up her career as an artist to become a stay-at-home mother, notices her body undergoing an alarming transformation -- one with distinctly canine qualities.
The story already has a movie adaptation in the works, with Amy Adams set to star as the shape-shifting mom, the book's publicist confirmed.
Author Rachel Yoder wanted to go beyond a conventional narrative that mined her own experiences as a mom.
Author Rachel Yoder wanted to go beyond a conventional narrative that mined her own experiences as a mom. Credit: Nathan Biehl
"Writing a book in which the mom becomes a dog is a horrible idea," Yoder said with a laugh in a phone interview. "I liked the challenge of asking myself, 'Can you make this work?'"
Nightbitch -- who, during the day, is merely "Mother" -- first notices her body changing when a patch of fur grows on the back of her neck. It's soon followed by pointy canine teeth and a tail. Her husband, a hapless "nice guy" who travels five days a week for work, denies that the changes are anything more than an overreaction on his wife's part.
But stranger things begin to happen. Three dogs come to visit Mother, and she can clearly understand their language. Her sense of smell and taste sharpen and become overwhelming, causing her to gorge on raw red meat. When she's with the dogs, Nightbitch is free. And although she loses opportunities to play with her son, it's seemingly the only time she can leave the burden of domestic life behind and enjoy motherhood. Becoming a dog also helps her reconnect with her identity as an artist.

'Mother as destroyer'

Yoder wrote the novel in short spurts on weekends while her husband watched their now-7-year-old son. Quickly, the narrative veered toward surreal territory.
"I was really working with these archetypes of mother and father and child and seeing how the characters as embodiments of ideas play out in the story," Yoder said.
Actress Amy Adams will become the mother-turned-feral dog on the silver screen.
Actress Amy Adams will become the mother-turned-feral dog on the silver screen. Credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Yoder's protagonist joins a long line of female characters -- in classical mythology and folklore, as well as contemporary culture -- who transcend the mundane through their extraordinary powers, including the Morrigan, a Celtic war goddess who could assume any animal's form, and Wanda Maximoff of "WandaVision," who deals with the pain of loss by manifesting an idyllic alternate reality. At the height of her powers, Nightbitch, a canine hunter, does not necessarily find happiness, but instead, something more primal -- a pleasure in killing.
"I was struck by the sort of poetic symmetry of motherhood, where you're literally creating a new life," Yoder said. "We're so comfortable with that image, but what happens when you examine the other side of it? Not mother as creator, but mother as destroyer?"
In a world where mothers are praised for rebounding to their pre-pregnancy weight months after giving birth and posting images on Instagram of their children building science and math skills before they can walk, "Nightbitch" is a screaming reminder that perfection is not only unattainable, but also corrosive.
"We turn to other moms to learn what is correct and how we should engage with our children," Yoder said. "And in my own experience, so much of the performance of motherhood felt hollow or inauthentic to the sort of mom I wanted to be."
Not all women want to -- or can -- shed the mold of modern motherhood to be more feral versions of themselves. But "Nightbitch" does provide, at the very least, comic relief for moms and really anyone who feels trapped in the role society has prescribed for them.

Add to queue: More wild women

Read: "Migrations" by Charlotte McConaghy (2020)
McConaghy's novel takes place in the future, when 80% of Earth's animals, including most birds, have become extinct. Franny Stone, an Irish woman, is determined to follow the final migration of Arctic terns. Though she is human, some of her impulses -- diving into Norway's frigid waters, for example -- make you wonder if she carries magic blood from her ancestors.
Written and directed by Nick Cassavetes, this 1974 film is about a woman whose inability to fit into society leads to others assuming she is mentally ill. The way that Mabel Longhetti, portrayed by Gena Rowlands, plays freely and openly with her children is striking; it's reminiscent of the way Mother in "Nightbitch" finally enjoys motherhood once she lets herself go from rules and expectations.
Read: "The New Wilderness" by Diane Cook (2020)
With a tale set in a dystopian future in which most of the world is a polluted metropolis, Cook imagines a group of people who volunteer to return to a hunter-gatherer state in the last remaining wilderness. The mother in the book, who must turn somewhat feral to survive, would be a kindred spirit to Mother in "Nightbitch."
Watch: "Song of the Sea" (2014)
This Oscar-nominated animated film tells the story of a 10-year-old Irish boy named Ben whose mute younger sister, Saoirse, is a selkie -- a mythical being capable of transforming into a seal. The narrative, which is captivating no matter your age, explores not only what you gain when you can shape-shift, but also what you must sacrifice to maintain your power.
Based in Norway, visual artist Vanessa Baird creates messy, hilarious drawings of the interior of her apartment, where she lives with her elderly mother and three teenage children. Replete with nudity, fart jokes and clutter, they are a truthful look at the chaos of motherhood.