BEARING LIFE by Rochelle Ratner


Women's Writings on Childlessness
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Over 50 women contribute to this engaging collection of essays, fiction, and poetry exploring childlessness. American Book Review editor Ratner (The Lion’s Share, 1991, etc.) proposes to discuss and legitimize alternatives to motherhood through the work of outstanding female writers. While the expected topics of abortion and infertility are central here, dozens of less-discussed scenarios of choice and circumstance are explored as well. In Jodi Sh. Doff’s “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Off” a young woman, afraid she has inherited her father’s abusive tendencies, chooses hysterectomy. Women variously ascribe their childlessness to ecological concerns, age, incarceration, and menstruation. The selections are carefully balanced, allowing one woman to fear selfishness and another to fear neglecting her inner child. Many, as in Amy Hempel’s “Pretty Story,” will only imagine motherhood: “If I had a baby, I would change overnight from a woman who worries about the calories in the glue of an envelope to someone who goes to the corner for coffee, a nightgown showing beneath my coat, the hem of that gown clawed to shreds by a cat.— In some pieces writers view their fictional characters as their children, and writing fulfills their desire to create. These women reveal the parallels between creating art and creating life, and the conflicts between the roles of artist and mother. Ratner does stretch the term childless to include Joyce Carol Oates’s “Mother,” where a bedroom door divides a teenage son from his mother, and Margaret Atwood’s surreal “Hairball,” in which a lonely woman keeps her benign tumor in a jar on her mantel. The collection does not want for depth or imagination, and its sprawling content helps shape a topic defined in name only by absence. An intricate and important anthology, ultimately using childlessness to develop a study of art, female identity, and self-understanding.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 2000
ISBN: 1-55861-236-X
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Feminist Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1999