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November 15, 2017 at 11:06 AM EST

Aimee Molloy’s chilling debut, The Perfect Mother, unfolds over just 13 days. It follows a group of Brooklyn moms called the May Mothers (so named for the month of their children’s birth) who go out for drinks one night — only to find that the child of another member of their group was stolen from his crib during the evening. So Colette, the pretty ghostwriter with a novelist husband; Francie, the stay-at-home Southerner with a workaholic husband; and Nell, who’s back at her corporate job after a swift maternity leave and harboring a scandalous secret from her past, must band together and find the missing baby before secrets emerge and spiral out of their control.

The Perfect Mother doesn’t hit shelves until May 1, 2018 — but EW has your first look at the splintering cover right here, along with a sneak peek at the first chapter. Be sure to read it when you can: Kerry Washington is already slated to star in the film version.

Excerpt from The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

CHAPTER ONE

FOURTEEN MONTHS LATER 

TO: May Mothers

FROM: Your friends at The Village

DATE: July 4

SUBJECT: Today’s advice

YOUR TODDLER: FOURTEEN MONTHS

In honor of the holiday, today’s advice is about independence. Do you notice that your formerly fearless little guy is suddenly afraid of everything when you’re out of sight? The neighbor’s adorable dog is now a terrifying predator. The shadow on the ceiling has become an armless ghoul. It’s normal for your toddler to begin to sense danger in his world, and it’s now your job to help him navigate these fears, letting him know he’s safe, and that even if you’re out of sight, Mommy will always be there to protect him, no matter what.

 

How fast the time goes.

That’s what people were always telling us, at least; the strangers’ hands on our bellies, saying how careful we must be to enjoy the time. How it’ll all be over in a blink of an eye. How before we know it, they’ll be walking, talking, leaving us.

It’s been four hundred and eleven days, and time hasn’t gone fast at all. I’ve been trying to imagine what Dr. H would say. Sometimes I close my eyes and picture myself in his office, my time almost up, the next patient eagerly tapping a toe in the waiting room. You have a tendency to ruminate on things, he’d say. But, interestingly, never the positive aspects of your life. Let’s think about those.

The positive things.

My mother’s face, how peaceful she looked at times, when it was just the two of us, in the car running errands; on our way to the lake.

The light in the mornings. The feel of the rain.

Those lazy spring afternoons, sitting in the park, the baby somersaulting inside me, my swollen feet bursting from my san- dals like bruised peaches. Back before all the trouble started, when Midas hadn’t yet become Baby Midas, everyone’s latest cause, when he was just another newborn boy in Brooklyn, one among a million, no more or less extraordinary than the dozen or so other babies with bright futures and peculiar names asleep in the inner circle of a May Mothers meeting.

The May Mothers. My mommy group. I’ve never liked that term. Mommy. It’s so fraught, so political. We weren’t mommies. We were mothers. People. Women who just happened to ovu- late on the same schedule and then give birth the same month. Strangers who chose—for the good of the babies, for the sake of our sanity—to become friends.

We signed up through The Village website—“Brooklyn parents’ most precious resource™”—getting to know one another over e-mail months before we met, long before we gave birth, dissecting our new lot in life in a level of detail our real friends would never tolerate. About finding out we were pregnant. Our clever way of telling our mothers. Trading ideas for baby names and concerns about our pelvic floors. It was Francie who suggested we get together in person, on the first day of spring, and we all carried ourselves to the park that March morning, under the weight of our third-trimester bellies. Sitting in the shade, the smell of newly awakened grass in the air, we were happy to be together, to finally put faces to the names. We continued to meet, registering for the same birthing classes, the same CPR course, cat-cowing next to one another at the same yoga studio. Then, in May, the babies began to arrive, just as expected, just in time for Brooklyn’s hottest summer in recorded history.

You did it! we wrote, responding to the latest birth announce- ment, cooing like seasoned grandmothers over the attached photo of a tiny infant wrapped in a blue-and-pink hospital blanket.

Those cheeks!

Welcome to the world, little one!

Some in our group wouldn’t feel safe leaving the house for weeks, while others couldn’t wait to come together, to show off the baby. (They were all so new to us still that we didn’t refer to them by their names—not as Midas, Will, Poppy, but simply as “the baby.”) Freed for a few months from our jobs, if not concerns about our careers, we got together twice a week, always in the park, usually under the willow tree near the base- ball diamonds, if someone was lucky enough to get there first and claim the coveted spot. The group changed a lot in the beginning. New people came, while others I’d grown used to see- ing went—the mommy-group skeptics, the older mothers who couldn’t stomach the collective anxiety, those already departing to the expensive suburbs of Maplewood and Westchester. But I could always count on the three regulars to be there.

First, there was Francie. If our group had a mascot, someone to glue themselves in feathers and lead our team in three cheers for motherhood, it was her. Miss Eager-to-Be-Liked, to not screw anything up, so plump with hope and rich Southern carbs. And then Colette, everyone’s girl crush, our trusted friend.

One of the pretty ones, with her auburn shampoo-commercial hair, her Colorado-bred effortlessness and unmedicated home birth—the perfect female, topped in powdered sugar.

And finally Nell: British, cool, eschewing the books and the expert advice. So trust-your-instincts. So I-really-shouldn’t. (I really shouldn’t have that chocolate-chip muffin. Those chips. That third gin and tonic.) But there was something else about Nell, something below the salty exterior I spotted from day one: she, like me, was a woman with a secret.

I was never going to be a regular, but I went as often as I could bear to, trudging first my pregnant body and then my stroller down the hill to the park. I’d sit on my blanket, the stroller parked near the others in the triangular patches of shade under the willow tree, feeling myself grow numb as I listened to their ideas on parenting, on the very specific way certain things needed to be done. Exclusive breastfeeding. Keen attention to sleep cues. Wearing the baby at every opportunity, like he was a statement piece splurged for at Bloomingdale’s.

It’s no wonder I eventually started loathing them. Really, who can stand to listen to that level of certainty? To sit through the judgment?

What if you can’t keep up with it all? What if you’re not breastfeeding? What if, for instance, your milk has practically dried up, no matter how many Chinese herbs you ingest, or all the hours you spend attached to a pump in the middle of the night? What if you’ve been worn down by the exhaustion, and all the time and money you’ve spent learning to decipher sleep cues? What if you simply don’t have the energy to bring a snack to share?

Colette brought the muffins. Every single time—twenty- four mini muffins from the expensive bakery that had recently opened where the tapas place had been. She’d unfasten the paper box and pass them around, over the bodies of the babies. “Win- nie, Nell, Scarlett, help yourselves,” she’d say. “They’re out of this world.”

So many around the circle politely declined, citing the weight they still had to lose, pulling out their carrot sticks and apple slices, but not me. My own stomach was already as flat and taut as it had been before I got pregnant. I can thank my mother for that. Good genes—that’s what people have always said about me. They’re talking about the fact that I am tall and thin, that I have a nearly symmetrical face. What they are not talking about are the other genes I’ve inherited. The ones bestowed to me not by my equally symmetrical mother, but from my exceptionally bipolar dad.

Joshua’s genes are no better. I would talk to him about this sometimes, asking if it worried him, the DNA he has to work hard to outsmart. His own crazy father: the brilliant doctor, so warm and charming with patients. The violent alcoholic behind closed doors.

Joshua didn’t like it when I spoke about his dad, though, and I learned to keep quiet about him. Of course I didn’t mention any of this—my genes, Joshua, his dad—to the May Mothers. I didn’t tell them how hard everything was without Joshua. How much I loved him. How I would have given up everything— everything—to be with him again. Even for just one night.

I couldn’t tell them that. I couldn’t tell anyone that. Not even Dr. H, shrink extraordinaire, who’d shuttered his office just when I needed him most, heading to the West Coast with his wife and three kids. I didn’t have anyone else, and so yes, in the beginning I went to their meetings, hoping to find something in common with them; something in our shared experience of motherhood that might help lift the darkness of those first few months, which everyone always said were the hardest. Itll get easier, the health experts wrote. Give it time.

Well, things didnt get easier. I’ve been blamed for what happened that Fourth of July night. But not a day goes by that I don’t remind myself of the truth.

It’s not my fault. It’s theirs.

It’s because of them that Midas went missing, and I lost everything. Even now, a year later, I sit alone in this prison cell, fingering the hard, jagged scar at my abdomen, thinking how differently everything might have turned out if it weren’t for them.

If I hadn’t signed up for their group. If they’d chosen another date, or another bar, or someone other than Alma to babysit that night. If the thing with the phone hadn’t occurred.

If only the words Nell spoke that day—her head tilted toward the sky, her features swallowed by the sun—hadn’t been so prescient: Bad things happen in heat like this.

 

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