An unflinching look at pregnancy and childbirth.
Lore arrives at the hospital alone, carrying a single duffel bag and an extremely detailed birth plan. Franckline, the maternity nurse charged with her care, soon learns this this taciturn, prickly woman is no more enthusiastic about accepting help than she is about fetal monitoring or an IV. But Franckline knows when to recede and when to insist, and, as pain breaks down Lore’s self-reliance, these two strangers form a bond that is singular in its intimacy and intensity. Erens’ second book, The Virgins (2013), was a study in teenage sex and friendship and a critical favorite. Her debut novel, The Understory—first published in 2007 and rereleased in 2014—was a close look at the devastating power of loneliness. Erens excels at reading the entrails of dreadful experiences and messy relationships. Her exquisite prose is what keeps readers from turning away. In between contractions, Lore remembers her dead mother and her absent father. She alternately loathes and longs for her baby’s father as she obsessively revisits scenes from their time together. When she’s not tending Lore, Franckline’s thoughts turn to her own pregnancy—so new that she hasn’t even told her husband about it. These glimpses inside the minds and hearts of two women are richly rendered, but this novel’s greatest achievement is its excruciatingly vivid depiction of what it is to grow and carry and deliver a child. Erens makes it clear that—at best—giving birth is an awful ordeal. And, by combining portraits of a woman at the beginning of her pregnancy and a woman on the brink of motherhood, Erens shows that there is not one moment between these two experiences without peril.
Powerful—aesthetically and viscerally.