After Birth by Elisa Albert

Review

Summary

A year has passed since Ari gave birth to Walker, though it went so badly awry she has trouble calling it “birth” and still she can’t locate herself in her altered universe. Amid the strange, disjointed rhythms of her days and nights and another impending winter in upstate New York, Ari is a tree without roots, struggling to keep her branches aloft.

When Mina, a one-time cult musician — older, self-contained, alone, and nine-months pregnant —moves to town, Ari sees the possibility of a new friend, despite her unfortunate habit of generally mistrusting women. Soon they become comrades-in-arms, and the previously hostile terrain seems almost navigable.

from Goodreads

What I Liked

I’ll explain below why this might not be a book that everyone can enjoy, but I’ve gotta be honest–I loved the bejeezus out of this book. Albert’s prose is infinitely sharp and witty, with a wonderfully dark sarcastic edge that kept me literally laughing out loud for a good portion of the book. I’ve never given birth, but even so, it was such an immense relief to read a novel that explored the difficult aspects of new motherhood with such cunning humor and candor. Albert alternately amazed me with her biting scrutiny of American culture and the cult of motherhood and her unique brand of comedy, often within the same sentence. The wonderfully realistic way she approaches the topic of female friendship and semi-communal motherhood is touching and relatable. As someone who has struggled with depression and maintaining her sense of self, I have often worried about what might happen after I have a baby, but people don’t often talk about postpartum depression, and especially don’t write about it. Albert tackles this issue with remarkable talent and adds just the right amount of levity to keep the novel from being too depressing or pessimistic, writing about the parts of motherhood that are wonderful right alongside the parts that really suck. Her style of prose, almost a stream-of-consciousness approach, made the book approachable and difficult to put down.

What I Didn’t Like

That being said, I could see how the amount of sarcasm and dark humor in this book could get tiring for some, and despite the humor this book can be a bit worrying, if not depressing.  Also, even though it was nice to find an author willing to really dive into the topic of postpartum depression and identity struggles, it certainly didn’t assuage my fears of new motherhood. I mean, I think that’s really the point; Albert is challenging the sugar-coated cult of motherhood that exists in American fiction. But it’s certainly not a feel-good read, and sometimes made me feel really uncomfortable. Again, to me that’s part of the power of the book, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Also, if you easily tire of sarcasm, you’ll probably be really annoyed with this book; if you can’t stand it after the first 20 pages, it’s probably not the book for you.

My Recommendation

I think it’s an excellent resource for new mothers, soon to be mothers, wannabe mothers, etc., but I’m not sure this particular brand of motherhood fiction will be engaging or inspiring to everyone. I can’t say enough good things about it, because it aligns completely with my style of humor and the topics of motherhood I have been most curious/concerned about. The good thing about this book is that it is short, and it’s easy to tell within the first dozen pages or so whether you’ll be able to handle the style of prose. I think it’s worth it to push through even if you don’t immediately love it, but I can’t guarantee it will be as rewarding for everyone as it was for me.

About the Author

Elisa Albert is the author of After Birth (2015), The Book of Dahlia (2008), How This Night is Different (2006), and the editor of the anthology Freud’s Blind Spot (2010). Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Tin House, The New York Times, Post Road, The Guardian, Gulf Coast, Commentary, Salon, Tablet, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, The Rumpus, Time Magazine, on NPR, and in many anthologies. Albert grew up in Los Angeles and received an MFA from Columbia University, where she was a Lini Mazumdar Fellow.  A recipient of the Moment magazine emerging writer award and a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize, she has received fellowships from The Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Djerassi, Vermont Studio Center, The Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies in Holland, the HWK in Germany, and the Amsterdam Writer’s Residency. She has taught at Columbia’s School of the Arts, The College of Saint Rose, and in the fall of 2016 will be Visiting Writer at Bennington College.  She lives in upstate New York with her family.

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