Just Like Mother: Anne Heltzel
Reviewed By Steve Stred
From about the middle of 2017 until early 2021, I joined a cult on the dark web specifically to research a series of novella’s I was writing. It’s interesting, now, to look back on that time and see that parts of what I was involved in and engaged with have irreversible changed me. One such change, that I don’t mind publically sharing, is that it has made me more hyper-on guard when reading cult based books about the characters and periphery characters. Bit players often have more power than you’d expect and in fiction, this can often result in maddening results. It can also create issues where something that happens, the reader may think “no chance that’d really happen,” when, in the context of said cult hierarchy, it makes perfect sense.
This leads me to Anne Heltzel’s ‘Just Like Mother.’ I was intrigued by the synopsis, of two cousins who’ve escaped their life in a cult only to reconnect years later. How would they have changed? Been affected? Reconcile their now with their then?
What I liked: The story itself is intriguing and the main bits that I took from it made me long for the entirety of the novel to have been like that. Maeve is a struggling editor, Andrea, a successful CEO/life coach of a thriving wellness business. Both were rescued from the Mother Collective Cult.
I really enjoyed seeing the lengths Maeve had gone to in trying to track down Andrea. It was great seeing them reconnect and being able to feel, even through the pages, the extra bit of energy that this reconnection gave to Maeve.
As the story unfolds, I enjoyed seeing Maeve stick to her guns about her life decisions and what she wanted in life. Often times this can be something that we’ll see pushed aside easy enough in fiction, so that characters can stay together, but Maeve had her heels dug in and it really strengthened her as a character.
Lastly, there is a good section discussing post-partum depression and how to cope and move on from the loss of a little one and I think that’ll really connect with many readers. Heltzel does a great job of handling this tough subject with grace.
What I didn’t like: For me, personally, this book fell flat because I simply detested every character, even Maeve. None of them came off as likeable or root-able, and honestly, it felt more like I was reading a novel targeted for people who enjoy The Real Housewives Series than anything. The women were incredibly catty and snotty, the men were ho-hum and, while ultimately it was part of the Mother Collective mantra, their diminished personalities resulted in them being ridiculous set pieces.
Lastly, as I mentioned before, the general idea of this was a solid one, but the length killed the momentum. We had a lot of repetitive instances, especially with the dolls (that seemed like an odd add-in and didn’t move the plot in the least) and the continued back and forth between characters saying women needed to have kids and others saying they didn’t. I think this one would’ve hit home more for me or been more effective if it had been a novella in length.
Why you should buy this: The reality of it is that this book just failed to launch for me. I really enjoyed the complexity of the cult aspect wrapped into it, but the characters just didn’t do it for me and the “random events” didn’t seem random at all, so I wasn’t caught off guard by a single one.
For those who’re looking for a dark read, you’ll find this goes to some deep recesses of people’s minds and you’ll really enjoy seeing the chess game that Heltzel has crafted play out.
For me, it was a miss.
Just Like Mother
The last time Maeve saw her cousin was the night she escaped the cult they were raised in. For the past two decades, Maeve has worked hard to build a normal life in New York City, where she keeps everything–and everyone–at a safe distance.
When Andrea suddenly reappears, Maeve regains the only true friend she’s ever had. Soon she’s spending more time at Andrea’s remote Catskills estate than in her own cramped apartment. Maeve doesn’t even mind that her cousin’s wealthy work friends clearly disapprove of her single lifestyle. After all, Andrea has made her fortune in the fertility industry–baby fever comes with the territory.
The more Maeve immerses herself in Andrea’s world, the more disconnected she feels from her life back in the city; and the cousins’ increasing attachment triggers memories Maeve has fought hard to bury. But confronting the terrors of her childhood may be the only way for Maeve to transcend the nightmare still to come…
Steve Stred is the Splatterpunk Nominated Author of ‘Sacrament’ and ‘Mastodon.’
Based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Steve has released over a dozen novels and novellas as well as a number of collections. He has appeared alongside some of horror’s biggest names within some truly excellent anthologies.
He is a proud co-founder of the LOHF Writer’s Grant and an Active Member of the HWA.