Let's be honest. If you're a parent of young children, you know the depths to which "having a bad day" can go. On such a day, you may even have fantasized about dropping your children off at the baby sitters, getting into the car and driving very quickly in the opposite direction. At the very least, you've probably wondered: What was I thinking?
Paula Bomer, author of the short story collection "Baby & Other Stories," indulges these fantasies and doubts in her debut novel "Nine Months."
Soho Press ($15)
"Nine Months" is a raw novel about motherhood. Sonia, the novel's protagonist, was a painter before she had two kids. Between her husband's long hours at work and her desire to be with her children, Sonia decides to put her painting on hold until her boys reach school age. But just when the boys enter a half-day preschool, Sonia learns that she is pregnant with her third child, which dashes the idea of painting to smithereens.
Sonia realizes: "With three children, you can't fit in a station wagon, you need a minivan. With three children, you are outnumbered. With three children -- and it hits her, it's a sharp stab straight in her brain, it's a revelation, it's like finding Christ -- there won't be anything left of herself. She'll be eaten alive. She'll disappear."
Sonia knows she'll keep the baby, but is terrified and overwhelmed by the changes required. Painting on hold once again, Sonia's family will also have to move, find new schools, buy a new car and go through the tiring baby stage once again.
Sonia is an "anti-mother"; she cracks under the pressure her new pregnancy brings and abandons her family. Without much of a plan, she hops in the car and starts driving, claiming: "I'm doing what every mother dreams of doing because I've always followed my dreams. I'm doing what every mother fears she'll do, because I've always confronted my fears. I'm doing something really terrible."
In escaping her kids and her marriage, Sonia acts out all sorts of fantasies: She has an intimate encounter with a stranger at a highway rest stop, dumps her children's car seats out of the car, and throws her cell phone in the trash can. In liberating herself of all of her encumbrances, she does things that I can scarcely write about here.
Much of "Nine Months" centers around the "road-trip plot." Readers come along for the ride as Sonia returns to her childhood home, and revisits with family, significant others and friends from the past. These are some of the funniest parts of the novel; there are absurd encounters with friends and former lovers whose neurotic lives make Sonia's seem normal by comparison. In visiting with a former art professor, Sonia comes to a more mature understanding about painting and art.
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"Nine Months" does not tidy up Sonia's messy life, which makes the novel feel real and actual. Ms. Bomer doesn't go in for a forced sense of closure; instead, she lets the ambiguities of children, marriage and motherhood lurk beyond the pages of the novel.
Shocking in its honesty, "Nine Months" gives words to what many mothers feel but don't express out of fear they will be branded "bad mothers." The novel dares to assert that mothers can love their children fiercely, but can also love their work or their own selves just as equally, which can result in tension. At times, the novel's blunt language and raw sexuality seem shocking. These raw episodes contrast nicely with hilarious depictions of the absurd moments of parenting, preschool etiquette and playdate politics.
"Nine Months" asks interesting questions about the demands placed on modern mothers, and the cost of delaying one's own gratification in the name of our children. This novel may make you feel uncomfortable at times, but it will also make you laugh and think about the difficult task of parenting and the choices we make.
Julie Azzam teaches literature at the University of Pittsburgh. She writes about parenting and children's books at www.instantlyinterruptible.com.