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LITTLE LABORS by Rivka Galchen


by Rivka Galchen

Pub Date: May 17th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-8112-2558-8
Publisher: New Directions

An engaging mind offers reflections on being a mother, being a writer, and having a baby.

It would be tempting to term this slim volume “singular,” but Galchen herself (American Innovations, 2014, etc.) provides the inspirational template when she discusses The Pillow Book, written in Japan more than 1,000 years ago. That book “is difficult to characterize. It’s not a novel and not a diary and not poems and not advice, but it has qualities of each, and would have been understood at the time as a kind of miscellany, a familiar form.” Now a decidedly less familiar form, this work presents dozens of sections, some a sentence or two, none longer than a few pages, which encapsulate her experiences as her daughter matures from a newborn baby into a more mobile toddler. Or, in the author’s words, “when she began to locomote, she ceased being a puma and became a chicken.” She has almost invariably been referred to in the preceding pages as the puma, without sentiment but with a range and depth of feeling that has obviously transformed the author. None of this is offered as instructional about mothers and babies in general but about this particular baby and her effect on this particular mother—who had never intended to write this book. “I didn’t want to write about the puma,” admits Galchen. “I wanted to write about other things. Mostly because I had never been interested in babies, or in mothers….I almost hated the ‘topics.’ ” Many of these reflections concern the baby in art and literature and how having a baby affects the output of a writer. The author also traces the development of a feminist consciousness, as she describes herself as someone who mainly read books by men and had friends who were men, but finds that the years and personal circumstances have shifted her perspective.

A talented writer delivers a miscellany about her maternal transformation.