Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Pg. 69: "Great with Child"

Beth Ann Fennelly is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Mississippi. Her book Open House won the 2001 Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry for a First Book. Her 2005 collection of poems, Tender Hooks, was praised for showing "that there isn't a subject — no matter how ordinary or domestic — that can't be vitalized by an interesting mind."

Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother is her latest book, which she put it to the "page 69 test" and then reported back with the following:
When I was pregnant, I read books written by expert Moms--relentlessly upbeat, chock full of answers--and I was reassured to learn there was an answer for every problem a new mother faces. But after I gave birth myself, I found matters much more complicated. Of course, I wanted to be a good mom, do right by my child, but sometimes it was hard to figure out exactly what the right thing WAS.

A few years later, a younger friend and former student of mine got pregnant and panicked (she was moving to Alaska with her new husband, and her mom had recently passed away). I wanted to help her, so I pledged that I would write her every day. I didn't know when I made that promise that writing her letters would end up being as much for me as for her -- because new motherhood is often a blur of details, it was amazing to sit down and try to make sense of it, gain perspective. I wasn't so interested in providing answers as coming to understand my questions.

Time passed and my friend gave birth and loaned my letters to a friend, who loaned them to a friend, and before too long I learned someone was interested in publishing them; hence, Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother came to be. Although the book covers lots of different aspects of motherhood, meandering from research concerning the effect of pain medication on the mother's mind during labor to anecdotes about trying to balance work and family, I'd say page 69 is, I think, representative of the whole. It is from a letter I wrote my friend in which I muse about my daughter's hatred of her swim lessons, and my own dilemma concerning what a good mother would do--"Should I make her stick it out in the hopes that she'll grow to like swimming, and teach her not to quit? Or should I capitulate, say we're done with the pool, take her out for ice cream, and enjoy her relieved affections while showing her I'm responsive to her fears and limitations?"

I describe the giant temper tantrum my child had, and conclude on the following page: "What I want to take away from this: when Claire throws a fit, I need to remember that she hates it as much as I do. She doesn’t want to lose control as she does when her limbs are flailing, her screams rising, her eyes stinging with tears. If she could stop herself, she would. I need to remind myself of that, instead of focusing on my own frustration, or embarrassment, or, more rarely, amusement. These little people are capable of the same emotions we are, the same terror and rage. Even when I see the cause for her emotions is trivial, the passion in her emotions is real, and the costs are also real, the exhaustion and remorse. I need to be respectful of this, respond in a way that dignifies her."
Many thanks to Beth Ann for the input.

Among the praise for Great with Child:
"Captures the doubts and frustrations as well as the joys of motherhood.... Her missives are alternately moving, funny, and practical, with an unusual honesty about just how hard it is to be a young mother."
—Margo Hammond, St. Petersburg Times

"My wife and I read Great with Child in the middle of a particularly sleepless and challenging time in our daughter's life; we found ourselves instantly calmed and reassured.... A wise and deeply honest book—one that any parent or expecting parent needs to read."
—Dean Bakopolous, author of Please Don't Come Back from the Moon

"A reflective, transformative book capable of enlightening beyond parenthood."
In this 2005 interview with Luan Gaines, Beth Ann talks mainly about her poetry collection Tender Hooks. In this interview with W. T. Pfefferle, she talks more about kudzu -- and her 15-page poem on the vine that ate the South.

Read her poem, "Poem Not to Be Read at Your Wedding."

Last year she offered an interesting contribution to my blog series for "novels written by poets."

Nick Hornby once considered trying to get adopted by Beth Ann and her husband but the plan fell through.

Previous "page 69 tests:"
Kenneth Gross, Shylock Is Shakespeare
Trinie Dalton, Wide Eyed
Barbara J. King, Evolving God
Patrick Anderson, The Triumph of the Thriller
Linda R. Hirshman, Get to Work
Lynne Tillman, American Genius, A Comedy
Patrick Radden Keefe, Chatter
Dana Stabenow, A Deeper Sleep
Siobhan Roberts, King of Infinite Space
Erin McKean, That's Amore!
Michael Lowenthal, Charity Girl
Niraj Kapur, Heaven's Delight
Keith Dixon, The Art of Losing
David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old
Mary Sharratt, The Vanishing Point
David Fulmer, The Dying Crapshooter's Blues
Anya Ulinich, Petropolis
Jagdish Bhagwati, In Defense of Globalization
Olen Steinhauer, Liberation Movements
Andrei Markovits, Uncouth Nation
Julie Kistler, Scandal
Robert Ward, Four Kinds of Rain
Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist
William Landay, The Strangler
Kate Holden, In My Skin
Brian Wansick, Mindless Eating
Noria Jablonski, Human Oddities
Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity
Neal Pollack, Alternadad
Bella DePaulo, Singled Out
Steve Hamilton, A Stolen Season
Eric Klinenberg, Fighting for Air
Donna Moore, ...Go to Helena Handbasket
Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye
Neal Thompson, Riding with the Devil
Sherry Argov, Why Men Marry Bitches
P.J. Parrish, An Unquiet Grave
Tyler Knox, Kockroach
Andrew Rehfeld, The Concept of Constituency
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue