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DNFed at page 43.
First, let me talk about the writing style. Nobody is given a name right off. They are known by their occupations: biographer, mender, daughter, etc. And that is how they are constantly referred to. In its efforts to be edgy and unique, it is bizarre and hard to follow. The writing goes from straight forward to flowery and almost high. The chapters are interspersed with excerpts from a book the biographer was writing about a 160 year old female explorer, and they seemed to have nothing to do with the book itself. Unless they were so deep in meaning I couldn't grasp them.
The background history is that the U.S. got a whacko president that enacted the Personhood Amendment, which means a fetus (or even just the initial cluster of cells) has rights from conception. Invitro is outlawed because a fetus cannot concent to implantation. Abortionists can be charged with second degree murder, and anyone wanting one can be charged with conspiracy. There is also the "Every Child Needs Two" act, which means nobody can adopt unless they are in a marriage. Single parent adoption is illegal.
That sounds unique, right? (And a little scary, given the way some uber-Republicans are acting). But I take issue with the whole concept of the Personhood Amendment. If it's all about a fetus' rights, then it sort of defeats itself. A fetus cannot even concent to birth, so unless the clump of mindless cells stays just that way, it is a moot point. What if the baby didn't want to be born but was anyway? We could even go so far as to say the soul didn't want to be conceived. It's a slippery, ridiculous slope.
And the illegal adoption stuff is also stupid. We have far too many children in foster care for me to ever halfway believe this would come to fruition. This book seems to want me to believe every Democrat and Independent in the country suddenly disappeared and we also gave up our constitutional rights to autonomy.
This books wants so badly to be different and fancy, but it's putting lipstick on a pig. It's a hot mess. None of the characters were likeable. The writing was like a tangled Christmas light strand. It's some sort of feminist wannabe. I love feminism. I hate this book.
Shitty writing + very unbelievable plot = resale pile
U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith's Wade in the Water is her most recent collection and the first I've read. I think it makes an excellent introduction to her work and wouldn't be a bad place to start if you're new to contemporary poetry. She does not intimidate, nor does her language obfuscate.
The two middle sections engaged me most. The first mines the Civil War era past and makes use of erasure and historical and primary sources in a way that both gives the suffering of African Americans at the time specificity and voice while absolutely illuminating continued injustices in the present. The second also makes poetry out of found materials to focus on contemporary issues such as the environment and racist violence. However, the poems don't attack; they feel like they come from a place of hope.
A book I'm sure I'll come back to soon, after I read her other collections, of course. :)
As we approach Mother's Day in the U.S., pop culture has lately been reassuring me that my decision to never have children is a good one.
Most recently, I went to see the movie Tully, in which a woman who's just had her third child struggles to sleep and care for herself until finally she relents and accepts her brother's gift of a night nanny. Life for her improves markedly, perhaps magically (for a reason).
Inspired by Tully, I consciously chose to read After Birth. Might as well ride this wave of mother-related trauma, I thought. The novel follows Ari, a first time mother, over the course of three months, her son just turning one. It flashes back to when she was pregnant, endured what she feels was a needless C-section, and when what is likely to be post-partum depression ensues.
In its bitterness, its sometimes funny rants and ambivalence about Jewish identity, After Birth felt of a piece with Albert's first novel, The Book of Dahlia, which I read last year. I admired that book for its stubbornly unforgiving protagonist, dying of brain cancer. Similarly, Ari's often caustic, volatile voice, her resentment at modern birth practices and various mothering cliques, as well as the unnecessary isolation of motherhood, was often refreshing to read. Sometimes, however, it became a bit much for me.
Ari wrestles with her past, doomed relationships with other women, including her mean mother, who died of cancer when she was young, former friends, roommates, lovers. In the present, she befriends and helps a new mom who was in a seminal feminist band. This relationship enables Ari to "grow up," to perhaps become less judgmental or bitter about the women in her life, and those who may become a part of her life.
Like everything else, motherhood in the U.S. has become commodified, both as an inextricable part of the health care industry and as a way to sell "stuff" that mothers have done without for ages. The most valuable, engaging aspect of After Birth is the insistence that, however individual birth plans and approaches to mothering may be, women are not meant to raise children on their own (whether there's a man or not); we're meant to help each other.