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by Adriana X. Jacobs

Good and Bad Mothers

Challenging new fiction from Israel

Given the thriving motherhood industry — with books and mommy blogs featuring rigid philosophies of childcare and manuals on feeding, sleeping, and calming fussy babies — I wonder what the experts and bloggers would say about Orly Castel-Bloom’s novel Dolly City (Dalkey Archive, $13.95) and its bad mother. Armed with dubious credentials from the University of Katmandu, Dolly, a surgeon, uses her son’s body to orchestrate some of the most macabre and violent scenes in Israeli literature, deftly translated into English by Dalya Bilu. Dolly can’t help but cut him open over and over again. Like most new parents, she constantly second-guesses herself, and subjects her son to relentless and unnecessary operations to reassure herself that everything is in place. In one early scene, Dolly carves a map of the biblical Land of Israel on her son’s back but later updates her handiwork to reflect current borders. As her son grows, the lines shift and change; Dolly’s first lesson that some things are out of her control.

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