ALEX by Jeff Stimpson

ALEX

The Fathering of a Preemie
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Journalist Stimpson debuts with a searing chronicle of life after the birth of his premature son.

Alex would be a bundle, despite his mere 21-ounce size. Brought forth by Caesarian weeks before he was due because doctors believed he was growing too slowly, he took his parents through the full array of preemie ailments, problems that affected his breathing, eyes, and brain. Dividing his story into a series of months (“November and December, 1998,” “February to May, 1999,” etc.), Stimpson writes in a quick and saturated voice fueled by the transience of Alex’s condition. Just another breath will suit them fine, up to a point, and then the author and his wife want more and better for Alex. They’re worn out by his periods of vigor followed by nosedives (“ . . . his head lolls. Dead again, I think”) that are followed by rebounds (after one near-normal feeding, he burps “like a tiny sailor”). Stimpson captures exactly what it’s like to field the everyday fluctuations of a preemie’s passage; when they have to take Alex back to the hospital after a single week at home, he writes, “I am glad that the study still smells like powder. As I type this the scent hangs in the back of my nose.” And readers will reexperience it too. Alex’s slow mental growth raises the knifing prospects of autism and Ritalin. “I would hate to see Alex lose the ignition of independence, hate to see his half-finished slashes of color on the paper turn to tedious, tame drawings, obediently and silently finished,” says his father, who must balance the deadening effects of medication against the needs of someone who experiences eye contact as physically painful. At this writing, seven-year-old Alex soldiers on, a boon to his parents and younger brother.

Breath-catchingly evocative of life’s elemental grace and messy dignity. (10 pp. photos)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-89733-528-7
Page count: 270pp
Publisher: Academy Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2004