Compelling childbirth narratives told from fresh perspectives.

READ REVIEW

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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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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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

DAD'S MAYBE BOOK

Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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