The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

16 Pills by Carley Moore

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Review by Lara Lillibridge

“I’m a separated, co-parenting mom, a writer and an academic, who tends to struggle between two internal voices…” (8)

Carley Moore’s essay collection, 16 Pills, is an exploration on what it means to be a single parent, a disabled child, a daughter, a teacher, a sister, a woman. The nonlinear essays vacillate between distant and near past: childhood, parenting, dating. She writes about diva cups, OKCupid, books, movies, art, Trump and the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Moore explores writing as a mother and the culture of shame that surrounds it: “It’s hard for women to tell the truth about dating, desire, and sex. We are usually punished for it.” (103)

Moore has a rare neurological disorder, and writes about growing up in a small town as “a looked-at thing.” (36) Through the linked essays, we learn about her diagnosis and management of her condition, but although it is intrinsic to who she is, it is not the sole focus of the book.

Essay collections by their nature overlap and then spin off in new directions, and Moore writes on what it means to be a mother and a single parent, There are essays on topics common to all mothers, such as the insanity of children’s birthday parties, dealing with lice, and teaching kids about racism and political activism. As well as topics unique to divorced parents, such as an analysis of all the dating sites she’s used and her struggles with relationships post-divorce.

The essay is my most comfortable genre because it allows me to honestly change my mind. I like landscapes that feel like mixed tapes and I’ll take a queer dance floor over a straight one. (145)

16 Pills is in conversation with other authors (Elena Ferrante, Alison Bechdel, Lidia Yuknavitch, Zadie Smith, among others), as well as with music and various forms of art. Yet it also delves into the mundane, concrete aspects of life. Moore writes with an often casual, frank tone that I found refreshing and absorbing. Her voice was relatable, like a very good albeit new friend. Her frankness is refreshing and often funny, as in, “My first sign that the party might suck was that almost all her classmates were out of town.” (9) The overall voice is smart, strong, and empowering. This is a woman I’d want as a colleague, neighbor, or co-conspirator.

Moore reflects on the concept that it is acceptable to be sad or disappointed sometimes, and that our culture often only allows single women the privilege of not being happy all the time. She asks, “How can we make space for sadness, for bad feelings, and for being unhappy?” (11)

Moore seeks to write a narrative that doesn’t end in being rescued by a man,

I came to realize that most stories about terrifying, out of control, or grieving women are made safe in the end by the promise of a monogamous relationship. The man heals the woman and makes her safe again.” (57)

I found it not only an intelligent book, but a hopeful one. 16 Pills reminds us “that our bodies belong to us and are not just for labor and care taking.” (149)

In this day of political upheaval and oppression, she reminds us that Trump,

…may have the White House and a lot of super ugly buildings, but we have the streets and the bars and the backrooms and the dance floors. We have the best sex and the coolest outfits and the most fun and we are all the colors and all the genders and, eventually, we’re going to win. (151)

About the Author:  Carley Moore is an essayist, novelist, and poet. She grew up in Jamestown, New York and currently resides in New York City where she is a Clinical Professor at New York University and a Senior Associate at Bard College’s Institute for Writing and Thinking. 16 Pills is her first collection of essays. Her debut novel, The Not Wives, is forthcoming from the Feminist Press in the fall of 2019. In 2017, she published her first poetry chapbook, Portal Poem (Dancing Girl Press) and in 2012, she published a young adult novel, The Stalker Chronicles (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux).

16 Pills by Carley Moore
Tinderbox Editions, 2018, 176 Pages, $16.00 [paper] ISBN 9781943981106


Lara Lillibridge is the author of Mama, Mama, Only Mama (Skyhorse, 2019), Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home (Skyhorse, 2018) and co-editor of the anthology, Feminine Divine: Voices of Power and Invisibility (Cynren Press, 2019).

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