Friday, January 21, 2011

An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken

A writer of fiction, Elizabeth McCracken found herself in France in an old house in the country, pregnant. She and her husband like to visit different places when not required to be home. Thus the French country. The two of them arranged for a midwife and had access to a hospital about 40 minutes away. All checkups went well, until the last one, when there appeared to be something amiss.

The baby was stillborn.

This book is the story of that baby, the months before and after, the way Elizabeth and her husband coped with the loss. It is written simply and freely, from the heart. Yet, although she says she did very little editing, she seemed to have a sense of how to tell the story. We know from the start that the baby dies, but we know no more about it until well into the story.

What we learn goes beyond the grief. We learn how a tragedy can be associated with a place to such an extent that the place is forever ruined. We learn that it is important to say something to the grieving parents, not to ignore the grief.

We learned, in this case, that McCracken does not want to forget the happy days, months, before the birth, even though she never wants to see those places again. It's important to remember.

McCracken wrote the book, she says, so that she does not have to keep telling the story, so that she does not have to answer the question, "Is this your first child?" It hurts to keep explaining, "No, the first was stillborn". Better that acquaintances already know.

A simply-written memoir that manages to sidestep the maudlin yet lets us in on the fullness of a mother's pain. 

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