Books Are Pretty

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Early Birds.

Below the title of Jenny Minton's The Early Birds is a tiny sentence fragment, not precisely a blurb and not exactly a subtitle, that reads, "A Mother's Story for Our Times." I wish it hadn't been there, because quite frankly it sets the bar too high. Because the art of mothering is such an intensely personal and unique experience, while simultaneously being boringly commonplace, it's too easy to remark that reading one person's experience speaks for all of us. In reality this can't possibly be true.

As a result, I couldn't stop rewriting the subtitle/blurb as I read the book as "Another Really Rich White Woman's Story For Our Times." If you read it with the idea in mind that it really isn't for moms like us - poor moms, black moms, lesbian moms, disabled moms, single moms, teenage moms, uninsured moms - then you won't feel so badly about not feeling emotionally connected to her struggles, particularly in the second half of the book.

In the beginning, Minton's memoir chronicles her struggle to conceive, her success, and the subsequent premature birth of her twins and the nine weeks they spent in neonatal intensive care unit. In the second half she brings the twins home and "gets into a Zen routine" with them, and we read about her worries that they won't be academically gifted enough to go to Groton, the fancypants private high school she and her husband Dan went to, as well as her decision whether or not to go back to work and her wondering whether her Trinidadian live-in nanny Michelle goes home to Brooklyn and talks about what a spoiled white woman she is. (The answer is: Duh. Yes.)

Ultimately, I'm very happy that IVF worked out so well for her (and so quickly!), that her good insurance from her good job as a book editor covered most of her million dollar infertility treatment, that her twins had top notch professional care both in and out of the hospital, that her subsequent son was born healthy, that she gave up her job and can rely on her husband to shell out a minimum of $120,000 to pay for Groton's tuition. I'm a mother myself. I don't want anybody's babies to suffer.

It's just that the minimal drama (there's a photo of Minton and her healthy, happy boys right there on the back cover, so you know right off the bat that your heart isn't going to get broken) coupled with a detached writing style (I take an empty chair from the isolette in the next room. I sit there all day.) left me feeling emotionally distant and a little bit snarky. The only question I had at the end of the book was, "How did she find time to write a book with toddler twins?"

Me, I woke up at five in the morning, snuck downstairs, made coffee, and crept to the computer only to find my three-year-old sitting in the computer chair.

"Why you awake?" he demanded.

"I....I...wanted a glass of water. Now let's go back to bed."

I got back in bed and curled up next to him for another hour before I could tiptoe downstairs and try again to write this review before my family woke up.

How did she do it?

From the acknowledgements, Minton writes, "Only because Michelle loves our boys so much and so well was I able to leave them in her care for hours at a time in order to write."

Oh, yeah. That helps.

The Early Birds
by Jenny Minton
2006, Knopf
Hardcover, 272pp
ISBN: 1-4000-4383-2

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