Motherhood in Pieces

Curator's Note

“Do you want to hear me scream?” The twin boys nod, in delight mingled with terror. And so she screams, the mother of their dead father. It’s a wild, crazy, ugly, unstoppable scream, deafening the twins, their mother, and the tv-audience alike. The scene and the scream, starring Meryl Streep, immediately went viral, and the opening of the second season of HBO’s Big Little Lies was a success when it was aired in June this year. 

It may even be said that Streep’s scream set an awkward but accurate soundtrack for the post-#metoo era, in its refusal to silence the disturbance of women’s rightful anger – and thus symbolically replaced the iconic image of existential terror in a wounded soul expressed in Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream” (1893). And, moreover, it installed the distorted scream of a furious and not-so-good-mother as the paradigmatic version of agony in the 21st century. Or, as Streep’s grandmother asks Nicole Kidman’s mother: “Do you think my grief is too loud?”

The roaring sound echoes in many directions, foremost in the faces and lives of “The Monterey Five”-women in Big Little Lies, all of them mothers, none of them qualifying for any Mother of the Year Award, to say the least (without spoiling the plot).

But in a transferred sense the Streep-scream also captures the contradictions of contemporary motherhood in the twilight zone between dedication and violent obsession – equally grimly displayed on the cover of the UK paperback edition of Karin Slaughters' crime novel Pieces of Her (2019): ”Mother. Hero. Liar. Killer.”

Book cover for "Pieces of Her" by Karin Slaughter with a woman in silhouette in the woods.

In one of Harper Collins’ trailers for Slaughter’s book the full stop after “Killer” is insidiously replaced by a question mark, followed by a new question, seemingly explaining the direction of the title: “How can you tell when all you have is pieces of her?” 

As the story cracks open the reader can continue to sample similar keywords like some kind of bizarre collectibles from a childhood and of a mother of whom it is impossible to say whether she is a mother at all. Or even if she is dead while still alive...?  



Thanks for raising these enmeshed questions of voice, self-expression, motherhood and violence. These narratives certainly make one think about what seems like perennial and unchanging demands and restraints placed on mothers.

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