By Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape, 2004)
Recently, more Americans than ever are getting to know Anne Enright, whose novel The Gathering won the 2007 Man Booker Prize. But almost nobody here has read Making Babies, which has yet to find an American publisher. It’s hard to describe the fascination these spiky, lovely essays on motherhood have for me, a woman without a child or any particular wish for one. Like memoirs by mountain climbers or four-star chefs, these are dispatches from a world of exhilarating and frequently terrifying physicality, creativity, and endurance. “A child came out of me,” Enright writes. “I cannot understand this, or try to explain it. Except to say that my past life has become foreign to me. Except to say that I am prey, for the rest of my life, to every small thing.” This vulnerable, defiant voice marks each page: deft, exact, and deceptively casual, as in The Gathering, Enright’s style perfectly conveys the permeability of self to the world that motherhood — like writing — can heighten. The brain “tries to make you feed anything helpless, or wonderful, or small,” she explains. “So I have let down milk for Russian submariners and German tourists dying on Concorde. Loneliness and technology get me every time, get my milk every time.” Her ironic feminism, inflected by her Irish Catholic upbringing, animates descriptions of nurses’ reactions to male and female babies’ genitalia, divisions of household labor, and the body’s mattter-of-fact disorder: “Women leak so much,” she writes. “Perhaps this is why we clean — which is to say that a man who cleans is always ‘anal,’ a woman who cleans is just a woman.” These passionate dispatches from an ongoing mystery were as compelling to write as they are to read. “The reason I kept writing about my babies,” she tells us, “even when they were asleep in the room, was that I could not think about anything else… I wanted to say something about the anxiety of reproduction, the oddness of it, and how it feels like dying, pulled inside out.” Making Babies takes a reader inside the new world of motherhood — a stained, dark, complicated, and beautiful place — as few other writers are willing to do.
Amy Weldon teaches English at Luther College.