I belong to a real, live, actual people involved, book club. I know! How outwardly social of me. There was one in the 'hood that was comprised of all the young single women, but apparently it kinda devolved into everyone passing the buck on whose house they were meeting at, and not reading the book, but showing up for the wine and discussing the movie version. I joined at the tail end of this version 1.0, and co-conspired with a member who wanted to make it a wee bit more serious, and we (sadly, perhaps) lost some of the old people, but attracted numerous new ones. And now we have this real organized group 2.0 that meets monthly for dinner (or brunch, if schedules fail) and everyone reads (at least most of it) and everyone talks. And I like it very much.
There are some oddities though, that I'm finding out about reading since the big divide took place in my life. For starts, it never really hit me how many ficitonal books involve themes of motherhood (and all the concomitant yearning, suceeding, failing, losing thereof) and loss (marriage, money, life). And I guess it makes sense to some degree, because what the hell are we going to write about that's remotely interesting? And so all books it seems to some degree hurt a bit.
And in public, this brings about a bit of the awkward. I've noticed at times when we're discussing what to read next, and I say "So! What's the deal with 'Memory Keeper's Daughter!' What's that about?" and there's this really, long pause when someone finally gets brave and starts, "Well, it's about this woman who has two children, but one has Down's, so her husband takes that one away and tells her that the baby died . . . " And again this horrible huge silence where everyone's wishing that the big screeching vulture would swoop down and devour the chirping crickets giving us something else to talk about. And I feel it's my social duty to step into the breech, usually with a (sarcastic) joke, "Well, that sounds cheery!" to let them know I'm ok talking about it. I once discovered that two people in club had a small private conversation about a book a couple nights before we met, and my first thought was, "How great is that!" and my second, conspiratorial thought was, "Jeebus, I bet they were wondering how I'd react to the book -- whether I'd just crumple at the table."
That book was Amy Bloom's "Away" (a gripping story about child-loss of another sort entirely), which I loved. But it brings me to my next personal epiphany: I read books differently than I did before. I suppose that's rather frying-pan-to-the-head obvious, but it really didn't dawn on me until I read Julia's review of Handmaid's Tale (which I read over a decade ago, long before I really contemplated having children) that books might strike me differently now that I'm on this side of infertility, miscarriage, and neonatal death. I recently read "The Other Bolelyn Girl," and found myself running to the bookshelf to cross-ref Alison Wier's awesome "Wives of Henry VIII" so many times, that I'm now rereading it. And talk about infertility, miscarriage, and neonatal death. These were subjects that I glossed over for the politics during the first read through about 8 years ago, that I'm now swimming in, in fascination, horror, and disbelief. During my 40th week of pregnancy with Maddy I read Gregory Maguire's "Wicked," and I'd love to reread it now, knowing what I do about genetics and offspring and siblings.
Stories on loss get met with a very critical eye now. Does the person get it? Months ago, the NY'er had a short story about a guy who faked his young child's death in order to take some time off work. Instead of being completely insulted by the premise, I was instead rolling my eyes in disbelief at the weak research the author used: a completely supportive workplace that would phone the wife to express condolences in person? Fiction indeed.
Bookclub is now into summer reading, and this month's selection seemed a safe bet: David Sedaris', "When You Are Englulfed in Flames," a compilation of short stories by the ever-so-clever and amusing wit. Until I hit the end of the very first story which ostensibly dealt with parasites, but of course, ended with dead children humor:
Did you know that every year five thousand children are startled to death?
"Those poor children," Maw Hamrick said.
"And the parents!" Lisa added. "Can you imagine?"
Both groups are tragic, but I was wondering about the surviving children, or, even worse, the replacements, raised in an atmosphere of preventive sobriety.
"All right, now, Caitlin Two, when we get home a great many people are going to jump out from behind the furniture and yell 'Happy Birthday!' I'm telling you now because I don't want you to get too worked up about it."
No surprises, no practical jokes, nothing unexpected, but a parent can't control everything, and there's still the outside world to contend with, a world of backfiring cars and their human equivalents.
Had one of you written this, I would probably be on the floor, trying desperately not to wet myself. ("REPLACEMENTS! BWAH!") But from what I know, he is not one of us. So the lines struck me cold and extremely unfunny, I closed the book, and haven't picked it up in two weeks. I know I need to, and that the subsequent stories are probably hilarious, but continuing to pursue this book has been difficult since we clearly got off on the wrong foot. It is the same reaction I have to people who run on for minutes about how great "Juno" was. It's funny if I (or you) make it funny, but really pregnancy and birth and death will never be humorous again.
Last year at the beach I brought trash -- Tina Brown's "Diana" -- which included the story of Diana's mother giving birth to a stillborn child that the attendants would not allow her to view. This year on my island vacation I picked up a thriller (Laurie King's "A Darker Place") -- known author, completely unknown story -- and it turns out the protagonist was driven by the death of her young daughter. It seems almost impossible for me now to pick up a book and not search for it, or get beat over the head with it. Either babydeath is more recognized than I assumed, or it spins a damn good yarn.
Someone tell me this Sedaris thing gets better, please.