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review 2018-05-11 17:04
After Birth, by Elisa Albert
After Birth - Elisa Albert

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.

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review 2018-05-09 18:34
Shaking Head--No
Red Clocks: A Novel - Leni Zumas

If you are going to try to be the successor to "The Handmaid's Tale" I want you to bring it. 
"Red Clocks" a euphemism for a woman's womb or vagina (I don't know guys, I refuse to go back and read this again) talks about a different United States where abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. So synopsis sounded good and I went for this book. I got a somewhat incomprehensible book about four women (and one woman that one of the four is writing a biography about) that limps back and forth between them and then ends. 

 

We have Zumas referring to the four characters as the following throughout her book:  the Biographer (Ro), the Wife (Susan), the Mender (Gin) and the Daughter (Mattie).

 

I think Zumas wanted to designate these characters as what the world sees them at, but honestly in Gin's case the best name would have been "Witch" and Ro would have been "Spinster." So I don't know what she's doing with that. If there had only been three women in this story it would have been a nice call-back to the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. 

 

The only story that I cared about was Mattie. One out of four is not good by the way.

 

Ro's story was focused on her trying to become artificially inseminated. I have no idea why the law would not have included this not being illegal if you freaking ban in-vitro fertilization, but I am not going to think too hard on it. Ro is also writing a biography on a female explorer called Eivør who lived in the 9th-century. I totally started skipping the sections in between chapters that were about her. I just could not at that point with everything else that was driving me up the wall about this book. 

 

Susan is not happy in her marriage and seems to dislike one of her two kids. She wants her husband to go to counseling and he refuses, so she is in a bad stalemate in her marriage. This also led me to question if you are even allowed to divorce in this bold new world, but I guess so. She seems to be passive aggressive about everything and I just honestly wanted to yell at her to either leave your husband or suck it up. 

 

Mattie is adopted and is pretty much the perfect daughter. When she finds herself pregnant, she's scared about what options are left to her. She does confide in Ro so there are some scenes between them, but that is way towards the end. 

 

Gin leaves in the woods and women come to see her now for ailments. So that part was kind of interesting. If the U.S. reverses itself, would more mid-wives or others have to step forward to be there to deal with things for women again. But here story was all over the place for me.


The writing was tough to get past. The flow was awful. It would have helped if all of the women interacted, but they don't. Ro interacts with Susan and Mattie. Mattie interacts with Gin and Ro. The four of them I don't think have one scene together in this book. 


The world building didn't really work for me since it left me with a ton of questions. Do I think in the United States we are coming ever closer to a woman's right to choose being restricted, yes. That scares me a lot. We know that somehow this act just randomly got passed. The Supreme Court said okay to this? Where were the mass protests? How the heck did in-vitro even get included with this?

 

Also the book goes into how single people would soon not be allowed to adopt because of a two parent requirement which also seems to be slamming those who are LGBT so that left me with wondering if that is illegal too? 

 

But then later on Ro brings up protests happening that she is thinking about being a part of and I just wondered about what did the rest of the world say, what are others doing? We hear how one teen goes to jail or disappears essentially after being found out she had an abortion. 

 

The book limps to the end and I was glad to be done with it. 

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text 2018-05-09 01:13
Reading progress update: I've read 368 out of 368 pages.
Red Clocks: A Novel - Leni Zumas

Grimaces.

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text 2018-05-08 21:31
Reading progress update: I've read 256 out of 368 pages.
Red Clocks: A Novel - Leni Zumas

I am either indifferent to the characters (the daughter, the biographer) don't like them (the wife) or just perplexed why they are in this book (the mender).

 

This feels like a riff of "The Handmaid's Tale" on acid. I just cannot get into it. Should be done soon. 

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text 2018-05-08 13:56
Reading progress update: I've read 192 out of 368 pages.
Red Clocks: A Novel - Leni Zumas

This is a bit too much for me. I don't feel engaged with any of the characters (the biographer, the daughter, the mender, the wife) and I found my mind wandering while reading. I was initially intrigued due to the premise (the US has outlawed abortion and denied people the ability to adopt if you are not a two parent family). However the premise seems to be barely in play here while reading.

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