VESSELS by Daniel Raeburn


A Love Story
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A University of Chicago creative writing instructor’s account of the near-marriage–ending heartbreak he and his wife suffered as they struggled to have children.

When Raeburn first met his wife, Bekah, a potter, she immediately “felt like family.” But a shadow loomed over their relationship. Before they married, Bekah miscarried one child; later, she gave birth to a dead child they named Irene, whose cremated remains the pair kept in one of Bekah’s handmade jars. Both felt profound rage and grief, which they took out on each other and, sometimes, on themselves. To the author, Bekah’s pained pessimism seemed to hint at feelings that she was a monstrous mother “who’d rejected her child.” Haunted by their failures, they continued to try for more children. They finally succeeded when Rebekah gave birth via cesarean section to a healthy daughter. Yet even in the midst of personal happiness, Raeburn was still deeply troubled over the loss of his first child. Irene had become an absent presence that reminded them of the deaths that had not only occurred within the family, but, like the suicide of a beloved painter-friend, had also occurred outside of it. Meanwhile, Bekah became pregnant again only to miscarry. And while the family seemed to grow closer, Raeburn could begin to see the cracks emerge in the relationship with his wife. It was as though they were sacrificing “the marriage that had made [Irene]…by re-creat[ing] the [dysfunctional] ones that had made us.” At 40, Bekah finally gave birth to another daughter, which, though a joyful event, tested the bonds within the family even more. Yet in the end, the “vessel” of the Raeburns’ marriage held, “cemented” by bonds forged through blood, loss, and hope. The narrative is not only a poignant expression of how two young people matured as they created a family. It is also a celebration of the way that birth—even if that birth ends in sudden death—brings new life to parents.

An eloquently candid memoir.

Pub Date: March 14th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-393-28538-3
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2015


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