Tag Archives: Jessica Winter

The Fourth Child: Pick it for your book club

Jessica Winter’s The Fourth Child is (oddly) hard to put down. Odd because it’s not plot-y, but instead a family drama that follows Jane, a devout Catholic mother, and her eldest daughter, Lauren, as they live the pro-life/pro-choice division. So why was it hard to put down? I guess it’s the smooth writing (smooth writing? what is that? Just trust me. Smoooooth) and the fascination with watching as Jane tries to live in the impossible extreme of ‘no exceptions’ in the pro-life argument.

I appreciated that the book kept the reader as some distance from the intensity of decision making around abortion, and instead allowed characters to explore these options in the gaps between chapters or the switch between limited third person narrators. This distancing kept this reader from being overwhelmed by a call to personal connection that might have made empathy challenging. Instead the reader is offered a sympathetic and entirely human portrait of trying to navigate the political, personal, religious and maternal dimensions of abortion that keeps enough distance to avoid triggering the reader’s existing beliefs about abortion and to invite the observation of how these women make sense of it.

I struggled in parts with what I think was meant to be subtly and slow revelation of some climactic character development, but for this tired reader was just too nuanced for me to make sense of. There’s a section, for instance, where Jane is revealing something [avoiding spoilers] about her children and her past, and I just… didn’t get it. It’s possible I missed an earlier reference point that would have let me make sense of what she was revealing, but whatever the case the section didn’t land and I was left thinking maybe it would be resolved later, but never was. I really can’t decide whether this is a fault of the book or of my reading habits which I freely admit involve a lot of the last twenty minutes before falling asleep right now, and so are not at my… sharpest.

This book was made for discussion among a book club, and I’m SO hoping my book club can resume in the fall, perhaps with this one (hey crew? maybe?). If your book club decides to read it, do let me know the kinds of questions that get explored. I mean you could read it by yourself, too. I GUESS.

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Filed under American literature, Bestseller, Fiction

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

Break In Case of Emergency┬áis 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. Continue reading

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