Better Call Saul meets La Leche League in this creative memoir.
In a work that veers from confessional to cautionary tale to small-town crime blotter, Baker (English/Univ. of Wisconsin-Oshkosh) offers a harrowing account of her childbearing years at the center of the Midwestern methamphetamine crisis. The author and her high school sweetheart, Ryan, returned to their Wisconsin hometown to raise a family only to find that Oshkosh had traded its overalls for opioids. Ryan scraped together an unsteady income as a public defender for the many townsfolk cursed by addiction and its attendant woes: assault, theft, murder, child endangerment, and criminal neglect. Although she portrays Ryan’s law practice as a noble ministry defending the weakest from too-severe punishments, Baker is hardly the meek pastor’s wife in this paternalistic scenario. Her only source of relief from the anguish of bipolar depression was getting high on oxytocin, the feel-good hormone released during pregnancy, breast-feeding, and near-death experiences, but she had to continue to have babies in order to keep this precious “oxy” flowing. As the children kept coming and the family’s debts piled up, they descended into the moral quagmire of the impoverished. Baker blames her failings as a mother and citizen (ignoring seat belt laws, letting her children’s front teeth rot) on her self-diagnosed addiction. Even as she compares her escapades and temporary insanity to the meth addicts all around them, she details her family’s hypocrisy in being willing to profit from, but not befriend or live among, her husband’s clientele. In order to gather the drug-addled denizens to her breast in narrative solidarity, she subsumes their tragic stories in her own and makes the disturbing anecdotes from their case histories serve as evidence for her theories about motherhood under duress. The author writes with an imaginative, studied complexity that, when joined with the disquieting subject matter, results in a memoir both evocative and irritating but which readers may find themselves unable to put down or soon forget.
An unflinching dispatch from the intersections of motherhood, poverty, drugs, and mental illness.