Break In Case of Emergency: On Being 32 and Childless (and not on purpose)

Break In Case of Emergency is funny. You’ll read it and laugh at the satire of office life. You’ll laugh a little at the portrayal of income inequality in 30 something friend groups (that sudden realization that your friends make way more (or less) money than you do; or that your friend inherited a heap of money and so never has to think about whether to replace their air conditioner). You’ll chuckle at the representation of hipster politics: the effort to be *seen doing good. It’s the story of Jen – 30 something artist, who starts the novel unemployed and begins working at a (parody of) nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the lives of (all) women. The novel offers sharp observations on white, middle class feminism, on the changing dimensions of female friendship and a whole heap of a lot about fertility. Jen wants a baby. A lot. And she’s infertile. (and some stuff about New York, but who cares).
I guess if you’re an any-age someone you could stand to read this novel for how it demonstrates the extent to which (young-ish) women are bombarded All. The. Time. by messages about their (in)fertile bodies, the judgements heaped upon these bodies for reproducing (or not), the myriad of outrageous and hurtful things that get said out of assumptions about why you have (or more obviously haven’t) had a baby. The assurance that it’s okay: eventually you will (except maybe you won’t; or maybe – GET THIS- you don’t. want. to.). Or it’s okay because having a baby is the most meaningful thing you could ever do with your life. Or that if you aren’t pregnant and you want to be it’s because of something you did, or should be doing, or haven’t yet done. Probably something involving a homeopathic recipe, or sleeping in this position, or not this position, or stuffing garlic in your vagina…  It’s probably especially worth reading if you know someone (and again, those statistics are useful because you most definitely do know someone) experiencing childless-life-not-on-purpose and the novel helpfully illuminates some of the more and less helpful things you can say and do around other people. Pro tip: Avoid unsolicited comments on their fertility. Or their bodies. Or their way of having feelings.

Clearly I’ve been having some shit around being 32 and childless. And this book was both too close to home and too far off the mark. My particular experience is an odd one (no really, statistically I’m unusual – 1 in 250 000!) in that I had a molar pregnancy (go ahead: google it). So, I get it, my fertitlity story isn’t being told here, and it doesn’t need to be for me to get something out of the book (whaaat?! novels aren’t only ever important if they speak to your direct experience?!). But the novel was too close in the representation of the frustration, sadness, impatience, longing and overwhelming jealousy that is the body-that-wants-a-baby-but-can’t-for-whatever-reason-have-one. And then too far off the mark because the ending ruined the whole book and if I were you I’d read up until the last five chapters and then just stop. You know enough about Jen’s artistic and matrimonial and friendship journies to see a resolution. And you can just forget that Winters’ ruined everything in the maternal conclusion. That said – no one talks about infertility because we don’t know what to say, or are ashamed, or are whateverwhatever, so it was refreshing to read a book that not only spoke the unspoken, but revealed the webs of connection among the community of people for whom children will always be a complicated question.

BACK TO THE BOOK, ALREADY.

Okay, okay. Some minor complaints about an overall entertaining reading. Winters employs euphamisims for most things about sex and fertility. I think it’s an attempt to be cute and Upper Case occasional. unusual. punctuation. charming,  a la a certain blogger we know, but it comes off as affected and out of step with the rest of the unflinching representations of friendship, class and labour. Characters that aren’t Jen (aka her friends, her spouse and her coworkers) are one-dimensional (though they are funny and internally consistent with their one-dimension).

Some points of praise because I do think this is worth reading (and on a beach or park bench would be ok) (and if I were a betting blogger I’d say this one will be a popular success): did I mention it’s funny? And does a great job of digging around the distance between portrayals of generosity and care, and the actual experience of receving either?

Sooooo… I didn’t talk about the ending because I don’t want to spoil. But I do want to talk about the ending. So if/when you read this one, comment below and we can have a chat.

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Filed under American literature, Fiction, Funny, Popular Posts, Reader Request

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