The Need (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

This speculative fiction starts off with a chilling home invasion (which had me double-checking every closet in my house), followed by a twisted path of paranoia, doppelgangers, and the varying limits of a mother's love when pushed to unspeakable brinks. The journey of the overwhelmed main character - explored in quick, disjointed segments - only raises more questions than answers, as well as the sneaking suspicion that she may just be losing her mind and dragging the reader along with her into the abyss.  

— From Sarah C



“A profound meditation on the nature of reality…An extraordinary and dazzlingly original work from one of our most gifted and interesting writers.” —EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL, AUTHOR OF STATION ELEVEN

“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

“Spellbinding...both unsettling and irresistible. Phillips manifests the surreal, terrifying, and visceral experience of motherhood.” —DANA SPIOTTA, AUTHOR OF INNOCENTS AND OTHERS

“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.” —LAURA VAN DEN BERG, AUTHOR OF THE THIRD HOTEL

“An unforgettable tour de force that melds nonstop suspense, intriguing speculation, and perfectly crafted prose…this story showcases an extraordinary writer at her electrifying best.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (STARRED REVIEW)

"Suspenseful and mysterious, insightful and tender, Phillips's 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.” —KIRKKUS REVIEWS (STARRED REVIEW)

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. Anointed as one of the most exciting fiction writers working today, The Need is a glorious celebration of the bizarre and beautiful nature of our everyday lives.

About the Author

Helen Phillips is the author of, most recently, the novel The Need. Her collection Some Possible Solutions received the 2017 John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Her novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat, a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the NYPL Young Lions Award. Her collection And Yet They Were Happy was named a notable collection by The Story Prize. She is also the author of the middle-grade novel Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green. Helen has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the Italo Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Tin House, and on Selected Shorts. She is an associate professor at Brooklyn College and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, artist Adam Douglas Thompson, and their children. Visit

Praise For…

"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)

"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)

“[A] wildly captivating speculative thriller…harrowing and surreal…you'll crave the next page.”O MAGAZINE

“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

"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

“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 


"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: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: July 9th, 2019
Pages: 272