Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Mommy Fiercest Elisa Albert's Latest Novel Explores the Dark Side of Motherhood

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Mommy Fiercest Elisa Albert's Latest Novel Explores the Dark Side of Motherhood

Article excerpt

: "AFTER BIRTH"

By Elisa Albert

Houghton Mfflin Harcourt ($23).

In the past few years, the work of motherhood has become a hot topic for women writers. From Lionel Shriver's novel "We Need to Talk about Kevin" about a mother's relationship with her murderous son, to Ayelet Waldman's confessional essay about loving her husband more than her children, mothers are beginning to discuss the darker side of parenting.

"After Birth," the new novel by Elisa Albert, is the latest entry to explore the difficulties of maintaining a sense of self when faced with the all-consuming task of mothering.

Ari is the mother to a 1-year-old son, Walker, and she is lost in mourning for the motherhood experience she feels she has missed. She feels robbed of a natural birth due to an unplanned Caesarian and hasn't connected with any moms in her new town, so she lives an isolated existence where Walker demands her constant attention.

When a heavily pregnant former rock star, Mina, moves into her neighborhood, Ari jumps at the opportunity to befriend her in the hopes that she can finally share her experience with a kindred spirit. The friendship that grows between them forms the backbone of the novel, which explores the need for women to form some semblance of community around motherhood in the 21st century.

It wasn't so long ago that extended families were expected to stay in somewhat close physical proximity, which made motherhood less daunting. New parents had a built-in social group to turn to for adult interaction and support. Now, careers and other considerations can fling families far and wide, leaving first-time moms and dads to figure out what they're doing on their own.

Ari resents this isolation but feels helpless to change it. "Mommy groups" don't interest her, and she feels so tethered to her child that other adults without children don't really interest her either.

Ari's ambivalence toward the routines of caring for her child certainly rings true - no one tells expectant parents how tedious it can be to care for a newborn or a teething baby - but her conviction that her experience is somehow superior drags the book down. …

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