Compelling childbirth narratives told from fresh perspectives.

LABOR DAY

BIRTH STORIES FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: THIRTY ARTFUL, UNVARNISHED, HILARIOUS, HARROWING, TOTALLY TRUE TALES

Thirty-one female writers (including the editors) narrate their highly personal experiences of giving birth, beginning with the choices they made in advance, and how the reality compared with their expectations.

Henderson (Fiction Writing/Ithaca Coll.; Ten Thousand Saints, 2011) and Solomon (English/Brown Univ.; The Little Bride, 2011) first met in 2005 at the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference in Vermont. They remained friends and kept in touch, and the genesis of this book was an email from a very pregnant Henderson to Solomon asking for details about the birth of her first child. She felt overwhelmed with the wide range of choices to be made: Should she opt for natural childbirth and a midwife or an obstetrician? What about epidurals, and when is surgical intervention required? After their discussions, Henderson and Solomon realized that there was a book’s worth of material to share. Despite the wealth of how-to books on pregnancy and parenting, what was missing from bookshelves was the kind of highly personal account that Solomon shared with Henderson. They wanted “artful, entertaining, unvarnished accounts of labor and delivery.” They pitched the idea to writer friends who were mothers, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. The contributors chronicle their expectations and the nitty-gritty of the process from the onset of contractions to the moment of birth. As many of the stories illustrate, the feminist ideal of natural childbirth is appealing but not necessarily realistic. Unforeseen medical emergencies are part of the territory; both infants and mothers may be at the point of collapse during extended labor, requiring surgical intervention. Gina Zucker writes exuberantly, “In spite of the pain, or in part because of it, having a natural childbirth had been incredibly empowering.” The editors also include sadder stories, accounts that deal with birth defects that might have been avoided with quicker medical intervention. Other contributors include Cheryl Strayed, Lauren Groff, Ann Hood, Dani Shapiro, Heidi Julavits, Jennifer Gilmore and Sarah Shun-lien Bynum.

Compelling childbirth narratives told from fresh perspectives.

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-23932-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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AN INVISIBLE THREAD

THE TRUE STORY OF AN 11-YEAR-OLD PANHANDLER, A BUSY SALES EXECUTIVE, AND AN UNLIKELY MEETING WITH DESTINY

A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York.

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socio-economic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4251-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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