Saturday, August 25, 2012

Nine Months by Paula Bomer

Nine Months
Paula Bomer
Published by Soho Press
265 pages
Available on
3 / 5 cupcakes

The most compelling reason why I read this book was curiosity: was it possible for me to despise a main character for the duration of the entire novel, or would I come to like Sonia?

Turns out I pretty much hated her from the start and did not stop.

Paula Bomer's Nine Months purports to be a resounding "Bitch, please" to all of those glowy, so happy to be pregnant, my life is now fulfilled novels about pregnancy.

But it isn't.

Instead, it features some of the most detestable characters you will encounter in a novel, which means that Paula Bomer's message that pregnancy is uncomfortable at best, utterly awful at worst, is lost.

The book opens with Sonia preparing to deliver her third child and first daughter. She is in a Philadelphia hospital; she lives, however, in New York. We soon discover that Sonia has been on something of an unsanctioned road trip. She needs to reconnect with her former self, visiting people she knew prior to marriage and motherhood. She needs to make sense of this unwanted pregnancy and her own ambivalence towards it. With each chapter, I became more and more distanced from her and her "journey." I stopped caring. But I admit that Bomer kept me turning pages to find out the result of Sonia's trek.

Lest we sympathize with her husband, the appropriately named Dick, Bomer takes care of that, too. He's as unlikeable as his wife. Is his demand for a blow job supposed to make us feel sorry for Sonia? It doesn't. Are we supposed to feel for him while his wife is traipsing across the country? We don't. These two deserve each other.

I think Paula Bomer intends for us to see that pregnancy - not so much motherhood, but the actual pregnancy - can rip a life apart. But anyone who's been pregnant surely realizes that. During those nine months, most women take inventory of their lives and suss out what will change. A lot of fathers and siblings probably do the same thing. Good old self-involved Sonia, however, focuses only on how her dreams appear kaput:
Before she moved to New York, before she met Dick, fell in love, got married and then, right away, pregnant (because face it, waiting until you're forty to have a baby is stupid), before she became who she is now, a tired housewife with a bad haircut, before that, she painted. And nothing else really mattered to her. She lived in Boston, slept with lots of men, drank a lot and painted constantly. Day and night. She painted until her soul ached, and then she painted some more. She painted until the painting was good, and then she kept painting until the painting sucked, and then she painted some more. She had what they called dedication. Or a calling. She made little time for socializing, but she did fuck a lot. She fucked not one, not two, but three of her professors at the Museum School in Boston. And all this, without being beautiful or having large breasts. Her professors fucked her because she knew how to paint and it turned them on, or so she believed and still believes. OK, being young helped. But would Philbert Rush, famous abstract painter extraordinaire, really have fucked her just because she was twenty-two? He fucked her because he thought she was talented, too. Sonia loves her boys, loves them more than anything, but she's been patiently waiting for this time to come. The time of no babies. Children are one thing, babies another.
Yes, children are one thing and babies another. Babies suck the life right out of you, but you know that they will grow up, eventually. You will not cut their food when they're in high school. You will not change their diapers in college. I know it seems interminable, that time when they are helpless, but we logically know it will end. The problem for Sonia is that while she knows it is temporary, she hates it nonetheless. I don't fault her for that. I fault her for other decisions she makes, ones that so selfishly affect and hurt her family, with whom she appears to not concern herself. When she calls her husband from the road and plaintively asks to speak to her sons, I half hoped he would hang up on her. She has not earned that right.

Nine Months undoubtedly will kick up a storm, and that perhaps is Paula Bomer's intention. But for there to be honest discourse about the truth about pregnancy, we need to at least like the characters.

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