THE BLUE JAY'S DANCE
A Birth Year
Astute, poetic reflections on the powerful mother-daughter relationship from conception through the baby's first year. Developmental researchers have found that when a mother and her infant gaze into each other's eyes, the feelings generated can be so intense that one or the other must turn away for relief. It is about such feelings that novelist Erdrich (The Beet Queen, 1993, etc.) writes in this intimate record of pregnancy and giving birth. "Love of an infant," she says, "is of a different order" than love of an adult: It is "all-absorbing, a blur of boundaries and messages...uncomfortably close to self-erasure." But like mother and infant, neither writer nor reader can confront those emotions directly for very long. So Erdrich finds both relief and metaphoric power in painting scenes from her life with her husband, five other children, a dog, and many cats on a New Hampshire farm. She describes dreaming over garden catalogs in the long New Hampshire winter nights, trapping and taming feral cats, collecting birds' nests, an "all-licorice" meal her husband prepared to satisfy her inexplicable craving, and a blue jay's defiant dance to successfully thwart a hawk's attack. Tied to each tale of rural life is a range of emotions: rage, depression, frustration, pain, sorrow, and nostalgia as well as transcendent joy, ordinary pleasure, pride, and satisfaction. How "a writer's sympathies, like forced blooms, enlarge in the hothouse of an infant's needs" is also part of Erdrich's story, as she trudges back and forth each day to her writing shack, accompanied by her nursing infant. For instance, a writer's effort to understand and depict evil becomes easier when the threat of evil coincides with a mother's absolute need to protect her child. Occasionally too self-conscious about the importance of Erdrich's role as Writer, but the bond between mother and infant has rarely been captured so well.