"Bad things happen in heat like this."
The Perfect Mother is set in a small Brooklyn community where a group of new mothers connected by circumstance are brought closer together. Calling themselves the May Mothers, the women are strangers who choose to become friends for the good of their babies and the sake of their own sanity. Meeting once a week in Brooklyn Park, these are largely stay-at-home mums struggling to get by while also shouldering the pressures of dysfunctional marriages. Francie is the group's unofficial mascot. Trusted friend Colette is the perfect female. Nell, a British expat, provides the voice of reason. During the humid summer days, the women exchange ideas on parenting and breastfeeding.
The group are planning a night out at the bar, The Jolly Llama, though their plan to have a "little fun" is in danger of being derailed. Gorgeous Winnie is fighting her own demons, haunted by her fraught career as a popular actress in a cult TV series. On this July 4th, the air is heavy with alcohol and heat, and the music is loud enough to spark an instant headache. Nell is aware how distracted Winnie appears. Token, the single man in the group, notices Winnie speaking with an astonishingly handsome man wearing a bright red baseball cap.
Then Midas, Winnie's baby son, goes missing. Alma the babysitter heard nothing. Buoyed by the promise from her friends to find Midas, Winnie thanks God that she has three loyal friends. At first, the police treat like a case of child abduction and are quick to tell the media that all leads are being pursued. Francie emails the other May Mothers, asking if anyone is free for an impromptu meetup. She's determined to piece together the clear chain of events. Nell recalls Winnie walking home, yet the details of the night come and go "like a rapid blur of static events." Fueled by non-stop media coverage, a collective outrage begins over the former actress who had it all and left her baby with a stranger to go get drunk.
Molloy's chapters are interspersed with the voice of an unnamed narrator who can't stop thinking about "Joshua." The mothers are keen to share their findings and secrets. Meanwhile, the nonstop media attention becomes a cleverly orchestrated effort to besmirch them and put pressure on a stalled police investigation. Do any of the mums really know each other? Both Nell and Colette recognize how much everyone loves to blame the mother, but both women refuse to believe Winnie is responsible.
With each fragmented flashback, Molloy cleverly ties the search for baby Midas with a tensely calibrated standoff and to the meddling, moralistic host of a faith-based reality show. Francie sits on the bench in front of Winnie's building, looking for a registered sex offender who lives somewhere on the block. Nell descends into darkness over a photo from her past. Colette feels the weight of exhaustion from the terror she's been feeling and her desperate need to know that Midas is still alive.
Though the novel is advertised as a psycho-thriller, The Perfect Mother is an intense exploration of female friendship and relationships. At first glance, Francie, Colette and Nell (plus enigmatic Scarlett) are an odd assortment, so different in personality and temperament, but they find themselves bonding together in maternal solidarity. The same goes for the motherhood theme. What defines motherhood and where does true motherly loyalty lie?