Rivka Galchen's Little Labors.
05 October 2016
As previously noted, since having kids I've gone gaga for parenting books.
What's really scary--to me, at least--is that, of the parenting books, I read, I only post about a few of them, which means I am reading way too many parenting books, both of the self-help and memoir/essay varieties. I can't say I really enjoy a ton of them, but yet I keep reading them.
So when I saw that novelist Rivka Galchen had published a little memoir/essay collection titled Little Labors, I thought, well, I'm going to have to read that too. It's definitely one of the more "literary" examples of the genre; here's how The New Republic reviewed it: "Everything one could possibly need is dispensed via dense, tiny, mysterious pellets--a fortified shot of literary enrichment we didn't even know we needed, but that now feels vital and enthralling."
Ostensibly the book is about babies and books. But the books in question are something a somewhat avant-garde novelist would read and comment upon, like Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book. This is not a book where the author dishes about giving birth and then blabs about all the celebrity memoirs she's reading and what they're making her think about. (And really, weirdly, female comedian memoirs did make me think about gender issues and culture, a lot.) That's the sort of book I would write, low-culture boob that I am. Galchen's is more, what's the word I'm looking for...removed? Here's the first chapter, in its entirety:
"Children's books. Books for young children rarely feature children. They feature animals, or monsters, or, occasionally, children behaving like animals or monsters. Books for adults almost invariably feature adults." (p. 3.)
Well, okay. True enough. But nothing here was as gritty in a motherhood way (read: not violent, but definitely sometimes gory), which is still kind of what I'm searching for in one of these memoirs. You know what I really want to read? I want to read a book of essays in which women share all the details of their birth experiences. Really. I think it would be instructive. Horrifying, but instructive, and perhaps even beautiful. Come on. People write roughly a million horrible war memoirs every year--why is that bloody subject okay, but birth is not?
Anyway. Here's another bit from Galchen's book, just to give you the flavor:
"My life with the very young human resembles those romantic comedies in which two people who don't speak the same language still somehow fall in love. Like say, that movie I saw on an airplane with the wide-eyed Brazilian woman and the doofy American man who end up together, despite not being able to communicate via words...Yes, it was like those comedies, only without the upsetting gender dynamic of the effectively mute female. Though with the same believability. And arguably the dynamic might still be considered upsetting." (p. 31.)
It was okay. But if anyone's got any suggestions for me about that gory book about motherhood, please do let me know.*
*I think this is why I love Rachel Cusk. She's been more honest than anyone else I've seen about what goes on in the immediate aftermath of having a baby, and in marriage.