- STAFF PICKS
- GIFTS + GIFT CARDS
- SELL BOOKS
- FIND A STORE
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoirby Elizabeth McCracken
Synopses & Reviews
"This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending," writes Elizabeth McCracken in her powerful, inspiring memoir. A prize-winning, successful novelist in her 30s, McCracken was happy to be an itinerant writer and self-proclaimed spinster. But suddenly she fell in love, got married, and two years ago was living in a remote part of France, working on her novel, and waiting for the birth of her first child.
This book is about what happened next. In her ninth month of pregnancy, she learned that her baby boy had died. How do you deal with and recover from this kind of loss? Of course you don't — but you go on. And if you have ever experienced loss or love someone who has, the company of this remarkable book will help you go on. With humor and warmth and unfailing generosity, McCracken considers the nature of love and grief. She opens her heart and leaves all of ours the richer for it.
"In this stunning memoir of the death in utero of her first child only days before his birth, McCracken has succeeded in writing a beautiful, precise and heartbreaking account without sentimentality or pity. McCracken, whose first novel, The Giant's House, was a National Book Award finalist, writes that at 35 she was prepared to stay a spinster, 'the weird aunt, the oddball friend,' until she met and married Edward. She became pregnant, and while they were living in an old farmhouse in France they passed over two doctors to select a midwife to deliver 'Pudding' in the hospital in Bordeaux. Woven in with the story is the aftermath of his death, the reality of telling the people close to her what happened, and how she and Edward were able to go on. 'I felt so ruined by life that I couldn't imagine it ever getting worse,' she writes, deciding that if there is a God, 'the proof of His existence is black humor,' which she uses memorably to tell her story. She later writes of the emotions surrounding her second pregnancy and birth, this time in upstate New York. (That she gives birth to a second child, also a boy, makes it possible for readers to absorb the sadness of her loss.) She lends her narrative a spontaneous feel, as if she's telling as she remembers, making her account all the more personal. In the end, it is a triumph of her will and her writing that she has turned her tragedy into a literary gift. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Some friends and I used to call ourselves "The Dead Babies Club." We would meet for brunch and talk about our losses — miscarriages, stillbirths, terminations after amnios revealed acute abnormalities. We may have been a grief-stricken lot, but we weren't going to be a silent one: We wanted to be seen, to be acknowledged, to mark these events that didn't exactly make us mothers, but made us ... something.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) And so, we were willfully conspicuous, overly loud. Because we knew: No one wants to hear about your dead baby. Elizabeth McCracken knows that, too. That's why, in her lovely, crystalline meditation on the nature of grief, motherhood, marriage and France — a memoir occasioned by the stillbirth of her first son — she opens with a quip: "Once upon a time, before I knew anything about the subject, a woman told me that I should write a book about the lighter side of losing a child." See, she seems to be saying, this won't be so bad. What's more, she reassures us, a healthy infant lies on her lap as she writes. I hope those signposts are enough to ameliorate readers' aversion to the subject matter, the excuse that the book isn't for them unless they, too, have borne a dead child. After all, you don't have to be an alcoholic to love Caroline Knapp's "Drinking: A Love Story." Nor do you have to have lost your jaw to cancer to appreciate Lucy Grealy's "Autobiography of a Face." The best memoirs transcend their particulars, offer a fresh look at the bumpy terrain of sorrow, love, youthful folly, aged folly, resilience and selfhood. McCracken's is one of those, and it would be a shame to pass it by because it strikes at one's deepest fears. The dead baby has a name, by the way: He is Pudding, one of those goofy place-holders you give a fetus after seeing its inscrutable shadow on an ultrasound screen. McCracken, author of the wonderfully weird novel "The Giant's House," tells his story, and hers, with heart and wit, but amazingly little self-pity. Like any woman who loses a child — say, to a random comet that drops from the sky — she strafes herself with self-blame. Our bodies, ourselves, our fault, right? Eventually, she displaces that recrimination onto the entire country of France, where she and her husband, Edward, led a classic boho writer's life before Pudding's death. Understandably, she swears she'll never go back. I imagine she will even shun French dressing, french fries, French braids. It seems a reasonable and healthy choice. And so, a baby has died, but no one is gone. Nothing changes on the surface of McCracken's life, yet, of course, everything is different. She is different. But what does that mean? During the unfathomable, 24-hour period between the time she learns that her son's heart has stopped beating and when she gives birth — is it birth? — she wonders what to call herself. Is she still pregnant if her baby is dead? And, more bedeviling, once he is delivered, then who is she? Is she a mother? she asks over and over. Is she a mother? There is, she realizes, no language for what she has become: At least if your husband dies, you are a widow. What greater torture for a writer than to lose control of her own life's story and then to find that there are no words to name the experience? One of the pleasures (if a bittersweet one) of "An Exact Replica" is that McCracken has let the seams of her creative confusion show. We witness the struggle to restore her narrative integrity, to make visible the invisible, to make readable the unspeakable. "I am that thing worse than a cautionary tale," she muses. "I am a horror story, an example of something terrible going wrong when you least expect it, and for no good reason, a story to be kept from pregnant women, a story so grim and lessonless it's better not to think about at all." Yet tell that story she must; I'm grateful she did. In the end, of course, McCracken's tale does offer lessons, both mundane and profound: Time does not heal all wounds. Closure is a load of hooey (hallelujah, sister!). All you can hope after tragedy is to go forward, letting loss heighten your ability to love. Reviewed by Peggy Orenstein, who is the author of Peggy Orenstein's memoir is 'Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, an Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night and One Woman's Quest to Become a Mother', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"McCracken manages to limn her poignant story with touches of humor, empathy toward those who struggled to express their awkward sympathy, and, ultimately, hope, in the form of the baby asleep in her lap as she types, one-handed." Booklist
"[McCracken] applies honesty, wisdom and even wit to a painful event." New York Times
"This is an intimate book....It is also a wildly important book — we do not live alongside the dead the way we ought to: We sweep them off to the margins as quickly as possible." Los Angeles Times
"This is not a book about the lighter side of losing a child, it never seeks to trivialize her loss, but it does show how honesty and humor can help people survive grief." San Francisco Chronicle
"The book is, on the one hand, an incisive look at grief and the terrible weight of memory. But it's also a love story — a paean to McCracken's husband and both of their children." Boston Globe
"Some readers shy away from books like this. I have been told about my own memoir that it is too hard to read. But I urge people to read McCracken's book, and other books that help all of us navigate life and the things it throws at us." Ann Hood, Providence Journal
"[McCracken's] devastating black humor punctuates the narrative." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"There's a finely tuned tension between romanticism and realism in her personality and prose." San Diego Union-Tribune
About the Author
Elizabeth McCracken is the author of The Giant's House, which was nominated for the National Book Award; Niagara Falls All Over Again, winner of the PEN/Winship Award; and Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry, a collection of stories. She has received grants and awards from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the American Academy in Berlin.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Average customer rating based on 2 comments:
Other books you might like