Boy, I really wanted to like this book. You've got an at-times unlikable narrator (and unreliable at points to boot), things I'm fine with. You've got weighty topics: What life is really like after you give birth, and why doesn't anyone warn you? Enough of the bullshit "You'll love every moment!" Maybe if you're fully drugged, you will. But instead, you have a lot more moments where it's hard, and you wonder if you're the only one who feels that way, and you can end up ashamed and depressed.
But there's more. Ari, our angry, depressed narrator, also had a rough relationship with her mother, who's dead but still occupies a great deal of her daughter's mind. Difficult relationship with mother? Yes, please, let's have more of those in books. Those of us who didn't have perfect maternal relationships (and who spend Mother's Day avoiding Facebook) need to feel we're not alone.
Oh, hey, there's even more--let's take on less-than-ideal female friendships, something else that doesn't get talked about enough. There's a myth surrounding female friendships, that we're all kindred spirits and have each other's backs through thick and thin. I'm fortunate--greatly so--in having friendships that fit that category, but I have lived through the horror of the other kind, and I'm not alone. Let's not pretend they don't exist. In this book, we see every failed friendship Ari ever had. And let's just say she doesn't appear to be a very good judge of potential friends.
But! There's more. Let's look at the flawed medical system around childbirth (Ari's butchered C-section has left her, a year later, unable to refer to her son's birthday as anything but "the surgery"). Let's look at unrealistic expectations mothers set for one another. Let's look at loving husbands who don't "get it". Oh, and Ari is the descendant of Holocaust survivors, so let's look at that too.
All in 194 pages.
Waaaay too much, to the point it feels like a list rather than a novel. "I'm going to tackle this! And this! And this!" A book written so heavily towards a theme rather than a story or character that it ends up feeling more like a lecture.
The overcrowded nature of the book ends up detracting from the exploration of any of these themes to good purpose. Ari notes resentfully anytime another woman is judgmental of her (for example, breastfeeding her one-year-old in public raises some eyebrows), yet she's horrendously judgmental of other women whose stories she doesn't know--such as those who use formula. Guess what, Ari? Not everyone can breastfeed. I speak from experience. I had tons of support--midwives, lactation specialists, OBGYN--all in my corner, but when I had a uterine infection the week after my first was born, the milk disappeared and never came back. Ari's solution would have been for me to find another lactating woman and have her nurse my child. Um, no. If it works for you, Ari, great, but don't judge me for not following your path--and then complain about others judging you. Yes, I get that can be a component of depression--but the author isn't selling it that way.
We see so little of the husband that it's really unclear why they got married in the first place. We know he's a professor who doesn't seem to enjoy any of the same social pastimes Ari enjoys. He is good with the baby, but clueless about his wife, just wondering periodically, "Should we get you some help, hon?"
Then there are the moments in which Ari tries to assure that she really loves her son. Any woman who's been through this understands the peculiar situation of infancy, where you love your child beyond reason, but can barely make it through a day. In Ari's case--or rather, in the author's case--it feels less like Ari truly loves the child and more like the author feels like she needs to interject this now and then, just in case the reader doesn't see it. And guess what--we don't. Maybe the author was trying to highlight Ari's unreliability, but it comes across feeling forced instead.
The string of failed friendships from childhood--maybe they're supposed to make Ari more sympathetic in a victim-ish kind of way, but at what point do you say, "Ari, seriously, honey, take a hard look at the people you hang out with."
To top it all off, the book has an abruptly happy ending that is in no way earned. Not even close.
I've seen several comparisons of this book to Dept of Speculation, and I get it--they're both about marriage and early days of parenthood. But that's where the similarity ends. I'd say: read Speculation, which hones in more thoughtfully on its subject matter, and really develops its characters.
Does it sound like I'm angry? Yes? I am. These are all topics that deserve attention in literature, but not in this way.