Elise’s prayer book symbolizes the impossibility of fully understanding someone else’s identity and life story. When Luke gives Nadia a prayer book that belonged to her mother, Nadia hopes the book will shed light upon why Elise committed suicide. Because her mother didn’t leave a suicide note, Nadia finds herself constantly trying to piece together why Elise wanted to end her life. “Nadia had searched the prayer book,” Bennett writes, “hoping to find anything that would help her understand her mother.” However, Elise’s annotations are inscrutable: “Occasionally, her mother had written notes but those were impossible to understand—under one psalm, she’d jotted down what looked like a grocery list.” By showing how enigmatic and even trivial Elise’s notes are, Bennett suggests that uncertainty is unavoidable when it comes to piecing together a narrative out of the disparate parts of somebody else’s life. This is significant, considering that The Mothers examines the ways in which people tell stories about and label one another.
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Prayer Book appears in The Mothers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...a fancy restaurant. During the meal, Nadia—who has spent the day thumbing through her mother’s prayer book and looking at the words Elise underlined—suddenly says, “You had no right to do that,... (full context)