The Need (Hardcover)

The Need By Helen Phillips Cover Image
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July 2019 Indie Next List

“I firmly believe I will be hard-pressed to pick up a book in 2019 I love more than The Need, a genre-bending novel that explores motherhood and identity. Molly is the most authentic character I’ve had the pleasure of reading in quite some time, accompanied by baby Ben and lively Viv, the most fully realized fictional four-year-old ever. Is The Need a fever dream, a psychological thriller, a cosmic twist of fate unveiling a parallel world? The author leaves her readers to wonder while highlighting the dualities of domestic life. In gorgeous prose, Phillips shows how the mundane is often revealed to be just that, but sometimes that mundanity is sacred. A deeply immersive human story.”
— Hanna Yost, Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, VT



“An extraordinary and dazzlingly original work from one of our most gifted and interesting writers” (Emily St. John Mandel, author of The Glass Hotel). The Need, which finds a mother of two young children grappling with the dualities of motherhood after confronting a masked intruder in her home, is “like nothing you’ve ever read before…in a good way” (People).

When Molly, home alone with her two young children, hears footsteps in the living room, she tries to convince herself it’s the sleep deprivation. She’s been hearing things these days. Startling at loud noises. Imagining the worst-case scenario. It’s what mothers do, she knows.

But then the footsteps come again, and she catches a glimpse of movement.

Suddenly Molly finds herself face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. As she attempts to protect those she loves most, Molly must also acknowledge her own frailty. Molly slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood: the ecstasy and the dread; the languor and the ferocity; the banality and the transcendence as the book hurtles toward a mind-bending conclusion.

In The Need, Helen Phillips has created a subversive, speculative thriller that comes to life through blazing, arresting prose and gorgeous, haunting imagery. “Brilliant” (Entertainment Weekly), “grotesque and lovely” (The New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice), and “wildly captivating” (O, The Oprah Magazine), The Need is a glorious celebration of the bizarre and beautiful nature of our everyday lives and “showcases an extraordinary writer at her electrifying best” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

About the Author

Helen Phillips is the author of six books, including the novel The Need, a National Book Award nominee and a New York Times Notable Book. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Her collection Some Possible Solutions received the John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Her novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat was a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A professor at Brooklyn College, she lives in Brooklyn with artist/cartoonist Adam Douglas Thompson and their children. 

Praise For…


“Like parenthood itself, The Need is frightening and maddening and full of dark comedy…Phillips, as careful with language as she is bold with structure, captures many small sharp truths. She is very good on drudgery and tiredness and marital resentment... With forensic precision Phillips identifies the price a parent will pay for tuning out just for a second, because that will certainly be the second when someone rolls off the bed or gets a finger trapped in the door…Everyday life, here, is both tedious and fascinating, grotesque and lovely, familiar and tremendously strange.” NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW (EDITORS’ CHOICE)

“Brilliant...It’s not hard to see why high-wattage contemporaries like Lauren Groff and Emily St. John Mandel have lavished praise…a sort of narrative nesting doll, a story infused with both essential home truths and a wild, almost unhinged sense of unreality....What Helen Phillips (The Beautiful Bureaucrat) builds from the first paragraphs is too clever, and moves too quickly, to be easily ground down in a review. Even the vaguely unfinished ending, less a full stop than a sort of pregnant pause, feels somehow right; a fitting coda to her spare, eerie marvel of novel, both beautifully familiar and profoundly strange. (A–)”ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

“If the challenges of parenting young children have ever driven you to the brink, you’ll recognize what’s happening to Molly Nye—for about 10 pages. This fever dream of a novel starts like a thriller (someone’s in the living room), morphs into speculative sci-fi (the intruder is from a separate universe) and ends up like nothing you’ve ever read before. In a good way.”PEOPLE

“Molly’s struggle to remain her full self while giving so much of herself away is electrifying...Mothers will recognize so much in this fresh novel — but they aren’t the only ones who should read it. Phillips has found a way to make these experiences universal, acknowledging the importance of the other — the creature without whom none of us would exist.”WASHINGTON POST 

A taut thriller…Between chills, readers will notice the pleasures of Phillips’s prose. Her style combines the sensibility of a poet with the forward drive of a thriller…Phillips’s crystalline style vividly evokes her characters. She draws them so precisely that before we know it, we’re deep inside their lives...[A] bewitching, fiercely original novel.”BOSTON GLOBE
“Hyponotically eerie…An ode to motherhood and a nightmarish rendering of its ‘pleasures’ and pains…Phillips structures her astonishing fifth book in edge-of-your-seat mini-chapters that infuse domesticity with a horror-movie level of foreboding, reminding us that the maternal instinct is indeed a primal one.” —LEIGH HABER, O MAGAZINE

“[A] wildly captivating speculative thriller…harrowing and surreal…you'll crave the next page. Phillips structures her astonishing fifth book in edge-of-your-seat mini-chapters that infuse domesticity with a horror-movie level of foreboding, reminding us that the maternal instinct is indeed a primal one.”O MAGAZINE

"An unforgettable tour de force that melds nonstop suspense, intriguing speculation, and perfectly crafted prose...Structured in brief, sharply focused segments that shift back and forth in time, the novel interrogates the nature of the self, the powers and terrors of parenting, and the illusions of chronology. Yet it’s also chock-full of small moments—some scary, some tender, some darkly witty—that ground its cerebral themes in a sharply observed evocation of motherhood. With its crossover appeal to lovers of thriller, science fiction, and literary fiction, this story showcases an extraordinary writer at her electrifying best."PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY (STARRED REVIEW)

"Suspenseful and mysterious, insightful and tender, Phillips' new thriller cements her standing as a deservedly celebrated author with a singular sense of story and style… [A] superbly engaging read—quirky, perceptive, and gently provocative. An intruder upends the life of a young mother and paleobotanist, prompting her to recalibrate her relationships with her family, her work, and, most importantly, herself. Phillips' fuguelike novel, in which the protagonist's tormentor may be either other or self, is a parable of parenting and the anxieties that prey on mothers and fathers, amplified by exhaustion, sleeplessness, the weight of responsibility, and shifting identities and roles. Molly may be losing her marbles, but we can't help rooting for her to find herself. While Phillips' exquisitely existential The Beautiful Bureaucrat (2015) found humanity, love, and hope in a dark, dystopian world, this novel locates them in the routine aspects of child-rearing, capturing not only the sense of loss and fear that often attends parenting, but also the moments of triumph and bliss."KIRKUS REVIEWS (STARRED REVIEW)

“Motherhood is a monstrosity in this engrossing novel, which opens with a mother clutching her children, fearful she hears an intruder. She doubts herself — not only about whether she’s imagined the break-in, but about how to exist as a mother. The story is maddening, panicky and full of black humor, much like parenthood itself."NEW YORK TIMES

“[A] poison dart of a sophomore novel...The Need is a thriller, and it isn’t. It’s a novel Shirley Jackson might write if she’d dropped acid with Rivka Galchen…The novel is a fantasy and a nightmare of what might happen when we see our (parenting) selves objectively.” NEW YORK MAGAZINE

"Just as we saw with Jordan Peele's latest horror movie, Us, the scariest thing is an intruder who reflects yourself. Helen Phillips' literary thriller imagines a terrifying masked figure who knows everything about paleobotanist Molly—and their identity is both stranger and simpler than anyone could imagine."ELLE (SUMMER 2019 MOST ANTICIPATED)

“Helen Phillips is best known for her delirious and philosophical short stories, and in her second novel, she combines her impeccable brevity with plot that unfolds like a paper snowflake.”VANITY FAIR

“Plotted like a thriller but seemingly born of a ménage à trois between an Italo Calvino novel, a mommy blog, and Shirley Jackson’s “domestic memoirs,” here is the next novel mothers will be passing around like illicit candy.”VULTURE

"The Need is a chilling novel from a blazing talent. It’s also very hard to write about without spoilers, because in addition to being a cerebral meditation on motherhood at its most elemental – fierce, beatific, sanity-thieving – it’s an adroitly executed thriller with a quasi-sci-fi twist. Mercilessly tense throughout, its opening chapter is a belter, beginning as Molly, home alone with her young kids, hears footsteps in the other room. The twist comes early on, with the removal of the intruder’s mask, and draws intriguingly on Molly’s work as a palaeobotanist. A bracingly singular achievement, it’s surreal, blackly comic and ultimately generous."THE OBSERVER

"Told through the mind of paleobotanist Molly, perpetually exhausted by her two small children and her job excavating (increasingly mysterious) fossil fauna, The Need is a taut, thrilling rendering of motherhood at its most psychologically terrifying."VANITY FAIR

"I'll also be calling in sick for THE NEED, by Helen Phillips, whose unexpected fiction reminds us that the membrane between reality and madness is porous indeed."—SARAH LYALL, THE NEW YORK TIMES 

"Essentially a home invasion thriller, The Need swirls around a young mother faced with an intruder she doesn't know, but seems to know her family all too well. You'll breeze through this existential treatise on motherhood, the nature of reality, and what happens when you're totally, utterly sleep deprived."THRILLIST (SUMMER 2019 MOST ANTICIPATED)

“The Need, the eerily gorgeous new novel by Helen Phillips, fills the void, offering up the perfect, insightful look into the way motherhood warps the world around you. …Phillips brilliantly captures the dissonant dualities of being a mother: the ways strength is matched with fragility, tenderness with ferocity, nurturing with palpable, almost riotous need. Phillips' language is beautiful and blistering, it feels raw and mundane in the way of an open wound, or a nipple, chafed from constantly breastfeeding.”NYLON

"A skillfully crafted, thought provoking domestic thriller."BOOKLIST

“A literary fever dream. ..The often distorted perspectives that come with modern motherhood are on full display in Phillips’ fictional reality as she poetically questions the psychological self. (5/5)” BUST

“Tired of reading variations on the same old domestic thriller? [The Need is a] decidedly literary novel that plumbs the psychology of motherhood. It starts when Molly hears a noise in the house. It goes places you can’t imagine. The Need is a book people will be talking – and theorizing — about.” REFINERY29

“An elegant dread slips through this elusive novel like wisteria on a crumbling wall...Many books claim to be domestic thrillers. The Need is the mother of them all.”MINNEAPOLIS STAR-TRIBUNE

“Phillips combines the terrifying idea of a home invasion with the delicacy and urgency of motherhood in this fiction of the summer's most anticipated reads.”—NEWSDAY

“I’m a big fan of Helen Phillips, and she has a dark, maternal horror story called The Need that I know is going to be brilliant.”KAREN RUSSELL, ESQUIRE.COM
"The Need is a profound meditation on the nature of reality, a fearless examination of parenthood, and also somehow a thriller. This is an extraordinary and dazzlingly original work from one of our most gifted and interesting writers."—EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL, AUTHOR OF STATION ELEVEN

"This book held me hostage, invaded my dreams and my waking thoughts, and readjusted my brain; Phillips is, as always, doing something at once wildly her own and utterly primal. Maybe it doesn't surprise me that the strangest book I've read about motherhood is also the best, but it does thrill me."—REBECCA MAKKAI, AUTHOR OF THE GREAT BELIEVERS 

The Need is a spellbinding novel, both unsettling and irresistible. The best fiction finds the uncanny within the familiar; it makes us feel the fantastical undercurrent of our embodied lives. With exquisite economy and evocative prose, Phillips manifests the surreal, terrifying, and visceral experience of motherhood.”—DANA SPIOTTA, AUTHOR OF INNOCENTS AND OTHERS 

“Helen Phillips has created an existential page-turner that captures, with perfect sharpness, the fierce delirium of motherhood, the longing to understand the workings of our universe, and the wondrous and terrifying mystery that is time. The Need is a brain-bending heartbreaker of a novel, and definitive proof that Helen Phillips is one of the most spellbindingly original writers working today.”—LAURA VAN DEN BERG, AUTHOR OF THE THIRD HOTEL

“This is a book about the biggest things you can imagine--the dreadful potentiality of life, the fierceness of love, and the terrifying and exhilarating mystery of motherhood.  Helen Phillips writes at the nexus of science fiction and psychological realism, conjuring a narrative so mind-bending and immersive that it'll change what you see as real.  She is an author at the height of her power, and we are so lucky to be living in her moment.”—ALEXANDRA KLEEMAN, AUTHOR OF YOU TOO CAN HAVE A BODY LIKE MINE

“From the opening sentence, The Need sucked me in (I read it in one sitting) and then spat me out at the end, feeling dazed and slightly off-kilter in the best and most pleasurable way. Phillips evokes with astoundingly masterful prose the lengths to which a mother will go for her children. At once a fast-paced thriller and psychologically astute literary novel, the intensity of the plot is leavened with moments of startling tenderness. Bravo."—KATE CHRISTENSEN, AUTHOR OF THE LAST CRUISE

"Helen Phillips writes with energy and experimentalism, including aspects of child rearing that are slapstick and joyous as well as life-altering and draining. It’s a book that starts out as a mystery, morphs into comedy and ends … well, you’ll have to read it to understand how perfect the ending is." — NPR'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2019


"A tightrope walk over the abyss, where the stakes are total, and the prose is exuberant and taut, dire and playful."KAREN RUSSELL

“Are we pawns in the thrall of bureaucratic (Kafka) or totalitarian (Orwell) systems? Or are we, in fact, the ones with ultimate power; the arbiters — even unknowingly — of life and death? Helen Phillips deftly interrogates this existential divide in her riveting, drolly surreal debut novel, The Beautiful Bureaucrat." —THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

"Told with the light touch of a Calvino and the warm heart of a Saramago,  this  brief fable-novel is funny, sad, scary, and beautiful. I love it."—URSULA K. LE GUIN

"Helen Phillips’ The Beautiful Bureaucrat has the compulsive quality of a mystery and the furious urgency of a fever dream. I picked it up and read it everywhere: on the subway, over breakfast, in bed when I should have been sleeping, at work when I should have been working. It will coax you into its world with the crystalline precision of its prose, so full of heart and strangeness it might even crawl into your own dreams and find you there."—LESLIE JAMISON

"The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a thrillingly original debut, formally inventive and emotionally complex. Helen Phillips is one of the most exciting young writers working today, and I envy those who get to discover her work here for the first time."—JENNY OFFILL

"Equal parts mystery, thriller, and existential inquiry, Phillips’s book evokes the menace of the mundane."—THE NEW REPUBLIC

"The Beautiful Bureaucrat reads like Borges in Brooklyn, with its cerebral pleasures buttressed by Helen Phillips’ precise, resonant depictions of love, marriage, sex, and terrible apartments. It bends from uncanny to unsettling and ends at very deeply satisfying."—ROBIN SLOAN

"A satisfying parable of love and life, death and birth, and the travails of transposed numbers. The Beautiful Bureaucrat reads like a thriller."—JOSHUA FERRIS 

"Helen Phillips is a funny, subversive, enigmatic, melancholy wonder. With And Yet They Were Happy she produced one of my favorite recent story collections and now, with The Beautiful Bureaucrat, she has written one of my favorite recent novels, equal parts Franz Kafka and Lydia Davis, a narrative in which the perplexities of work and marriage gradually change their colors to display the perplexities of birth and death. When these pages reached my hands, my first thought was this: Helen Phillips is publishing another book, which means that I can, briefly, revel in it until I start looking for her next."—KEVIN BROCKMEIER

"In the bleak hallways of bureaucracy, Helen Phillips explores what it means to make a life one’s own. The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a page-turning mystery, a love story and a revelation."—RAMONA AUSUBEL


"This stunning collection establishes Helen Philips as one of the most interesting and talented writers working today. In atmosphere and setting, her stories are often reminiscent of Kafka and Atwood, yet her voice and style are entirely her own. A fascinating, unsettling, and beautifully written work."—EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL

"Like Margaret Atwood and Lorrie Moore, Phillips has a knack for combining the strange, the speculative, and the mundane into an unpredictable array of stories. Like our best thinkers and futurists, she has the audacity to extrapolate the perhaps-possible, to explore potential answers to some of our deepest, unspoken questions."—THE CHICAGO REVIEW OF BOOKS

"Helen Phillips sings like a Siren on the page (if a Siren also had a killer sense of humor). The short stories in Some Possible Solutions feature doppelgangers and sister-savants, impossible staircases and surreal city parks; they swing open like doors onto rich, strange worlds, which, on closer inspection, reveal themselves to be our own. Phillips’ fans will hear echoes of 'Bluebeard' and Antigone, the Coen Brothers and Kafka and Shirley Jackson. But these tales are true originals, shining their eerie, lovely lights on the water and asking questions that linger."—KAREN RUSSELL

"I love Helen Phillips’s wild, brilliant, eccentric brain. Her vision flashes down like a lightning bolt into everyday terrors—having a baby, caring for a sick relative, raising a child in a city suffocating for lack of green space—but in a way so wonderfully awry that every single story in Some Possible Solutions has a freshness to it that comes as a shock to the reader’s system."—LAUREN GROFF

"Things happen that cannot happen. Marriages, motherhood, dinner parties, the future — Helen Phillips shows us the uncanny seams of ordinary lives and wishes. What is the purpose of stories as strange, as lovely, as unsettling as these? There’s the joy the reader takes in Phillips’s sentences, of course, and her way of seeing. But there’s also the sense that we have been invited on a desperately needed tour of our own dreams, nightmares, premonitions in which Phillips will be our guide. I recommend the experience to any and all — this is an essential collection."—KELLY LINK

"Comparisons to Margaret Atwood and Karen Russell would not be unjust, nor would they be helpful; Phillips is carving her own, messier territory."—THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

"[Phillips] is a master at building slightly askew worlds that resemble our own but allow for the inexplicable, the astonishing, the surreal."—THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Product Details
ISBN: 9781982113162
ISBN-10: 1982113162
Publisher: S&S/ Marysue Rucci Books
Publication Date: July 9th, 2019
Pages: 272
Language: English