HOLD UNTIL DAWN
(Gallimard, 192 pages, 2018)
*** RIGHTS SOLD TO GERMANY (PAUL ZSOLNAY VERLAG)
AND ITALY (EINAUDI) ***
Carole Fives observes without any judgment a drifting single mother, knocked around by the contradictory injunctions of society that deifies motherhood while condemning mothers that are not perfect.
She is a single mother, a “solo mom,” raising her two-year-old son. A graphic designer, she survives with a few contracts whenever she can, juggling between motherhood and paying the bills. During the day, she runs across town to drop off the child for a few hours at daycare to be able to get her work done. At night, when her son falls asleep, she goes out and wanders around for a few minutes. She also goes on Internet forums and looks up questions: “Do you ever leave your baby alone?” The answers vary from “You are completely irresponsible” to “I can’t believe we let people like her have children.”
Each night she reads to her son Mr. Seguin’s Goat. In the story, all of Mr. Seguin’s goats run away to the mountain by his farm, tugging on their ropes to escape. The seventh goat he buys is just like the others; he warns her about the big bad wolf that lives at the top of the mountain, the big bad wolf that eats goats at night, but she does not listen. Just like the goats before her, she tugs on the ropes that hold her, eats away at them, and escapes to the mountaintop. At nightfall, she believes that if she can just hold out until dawn, she can beat the big bad wolf. Just like Mr. Seguin’s Goat, our protagonist constantly pulls on the ropes, wandering outside from a few minutes to an hour, gasping for air.
Tension builds as life squeezes her tighter and tighter. One night, she leaves her home a little longer than usual. When she comes back, her whole building is on lockdown, sirens screaming. Only after being shamed for leaving her child unattended is she allowed to go up. Her neighbor killed his wife and son, before committing suicide. The headline on a news website says, “She tried to leave him, he could not stand it.” The narrator finally finds her voice and comments on the article, “It’s not the drama of separation, it’s a goddamn murder.”
Carole Fives keeps her narrator anonymous, to represent all single mothers. She only observes her daily struggles and victories. She makes us feel her guilt, her feeling of injustice, her constant battle to not only be a mother, but a good one. Societal pressure overwhelms her, coming from each person she encounters, from her condescending pediatrician, to her judgmental neighbors, to the comments from strangers at the park when her son falls down, to the judgments and insults on online forums.
Hold Until Dawn is a rare homage to single mothers. Carole Fives neither condemns or glorifies her unnamed protagonist, but brilliantly describes her anxiety so that we feel it ourselves. Carole Fives says it best: “I do not want to rock my reader, I want to shake them.” She is an avenger of the forgotten, the taken for granted, the everyday fighter.
Carole Fives writes about hazy lives, with a visual and sharp language. This is her fifth novel.