In Andrea Dunlop’s new novel Women Are the Fiercest Creatures, a manipulative tech CEO named Jake Sarnoff must answer for his past misdeeds against the women who’ve loved him just as he’s preparing to take his company public. In this abridged scene, his ex-girlfriend Sam — a brilliant programmer turned fitness instructor—encounters Jake’s new, young pregnant wife Jessica for the first time.
The day after Christmas, Sam taught a special half-day of classes she called the Boxing Day Wind-Down. Turnout was always high: people trying to extract themselves from the post-holiday letdown. It was a busy day for Sam. Thanks to her distracted state, it wasn’t until halfway through her packed prenatal class that she noticed Jessica Sarnoff in the back row.
Sam had been sure Jessica would show up at some point—she’d asked Serena to comp her first session—but actually being in the room with Jake’s pregnant wife was something different. Sam made her usual slow circles around the class, stopping to gently adjust limbs or whisper encouragement to those who needed it. When she came near Jessica, she was hit by an almost overpowering sadness. People always brought big emotions with them to this particular class—joy, anticipation, even grief—but Jessica’s vibe was notable. Sam had to force herself to refocus when it came time for the closing meditation.
“I want to close with some thoughts on motherhood for this prenatal group. Candidly, the way we talk about motherhood in this culture—it pisses me off,” Sam said. The group tittered. Sam knew that she didn’t always talk like a typical yogi; her frank manner could catch students off guard. “Mothers are supposed to be loving, perfect, patient, saintlike. Or on the other hand, you have all the memes about wine and coffee and the general disaster of it all, which would lead us to believe that mothers are well-caffeinated, sleep-deprived drunks.” More laughter. “This leaves very little space for the humanity of the women at the center of it all. “The truth is some of us had wonderful mothers, some had medium mothers, and maybe some of you had monstrous, selfish mothers. Mothers are human beings. We come in the full spectrum. But pregnancy and childbirth are singular experiences. It is a miraculous thing to be able to grow another person. There’s even a theory of civilization,” she continued, “that the reason men oppressed women to begin with, the reason they used their advantage of physical strength to subjugate us, was because they feared us. I’ve always found this compelling.” Sam let her eyes travel back to Jessica. She was watching Sam: riveted.
“So that’s what I want you to think about as we close our eyes today and exhale. What your body is doing right now is more powerful than all of the wars ever fought, any feat of strength ever performed.” She looked at Jessica, whose eyes were dutifully closed. “Women,” Sam said, “are the fiercest creatures.”