Commuter Reads: Solomon’s Baby

22nd-dec-012

Margaret River Press have started a wonderful new initiative: Commuter Reads. Head here to read the first FREE download, Solomon’s Baby by none other than… moi.

I had a Twitter conversation with Adele Chapman and Dawn Barker last night about the pleasure/pain principle in relation to reading fiction. I’ve started Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, and I feel perpetually cold, a constant sense of dread. And I wonder, why do we, as readers, do it to ourselves? Adele and I decided that we can enjoy the prose without enjoying the content. And even when a novel or short story is full of despair, most authors try to drop in a bit of ‘sweet’ to offset the sour. I felt this way when I read Elemental by Amanda Curtin. The ‘sweet’ parts acted like a palate cleanser, giving the reader the wherewithal to endure the next onslaught of suffering.

I bought Dawn’s novel, Fractured, at the Margaret River Festival and it’s been sitting in my ‘to-read’ pile for a long time. I can’t deny that I approach this one with caution. I know what it is about, and the subject matter scares me. I still haven’t read We Need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver, because I’m a scaredy cat. It’s about finding the right time. I’m going to brace myself and read Dawn’s novel next.

It sounds silly right? I wrote a story about postnatal depression, and yet I’m anxious about reading Fractured. I suppose, for me, Solomon’s Baby is less about the experience of postnatal depression, and more about the notion of culpability. I’m particularly fascinated by the various inferences made by some readers of my story; people come to a text with such different attitudes! Within this current cultural milieu, we have some big ideas and expectations about mothering; the 24/7 media cycle feeds us endless messages about parenting, and it’s a rare woman who does not experience mother guilt or self-doubt or anxiety on some level. I’m most interested in the reader’s position: just how culpable are my characters? How often do we unnecessarily apportion blame?  I look at the BATTLEGROUNDS that are parenting websites and I’m stunned by the defensive missiles and incredible level of judgement. Seriously, even the language surrounding parenting choices feels like warmongering: ‘militant breastfeeders’, ‘nipple nazis’, ‘helicopter parents’ and the like. Fortunately, I never experienced severe postnatal depression, but most women I know have struggled with early motherhood to some degree, and this kind of crazy rhetoric doesn’t help anyone!

So, if you’re feeling brave, and have some chocolate and tissues on hand, head on over to Margaret River Press and read Solomon’s Baby.

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6 thoughts on “Commuter Reads: Solomon’s Baby

  1. Another heart wrencher I read last month was Gillian Mears’ Foal’s Bread. Lordy. Still, the pleasure of her incredible prose made the pain of the story worth enduring. And there was still something consistently hopeful and ultimately, redemptive about it. Likewise Dawn’s Fractured. I still felt that in the end Fractured was oddly life affirming. Whereas Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, regardless of how excellent the writing (and of course it is) did not leave me with this; just a crushing fear of parenthood and the conclusion that for many of us it’s probably better to withdraw altogether. That, for me, is the difference. So while I totally agree about the pleasure of amazing writing making up for sad and depressing subject matter, I think I also need a glimmer of hope in the narrative and a sense that life, with all its tragedy and pain, is still worthwhile.
    Loved this post, Kristen. 🙂

  2. You know, reading your comment made me think: parenting is like reading a painful book in so many ways. So much of it is difficult, and terribly scary, but the high points make it worth it. 🙂

  3. I just read ‘Solomon’s Baby’ — the story and the writing are heart-wrenching. It’s beautiful prose, and I love the story and the title. Congrats to you!

    If you can’t read Shriver’s ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’, then don’t. I would highly recommend it, but only if it doesn’t press too many buttons. When reading stories, I think, you have to step out of yourself in a way, and just be in the story. I read ‘We Need to Talk …’ and it made me very, very sad, but it certainly didn’t scar or worry me. I have two boys (and two girls) and I believe that with love and nurturing, they’ll be okay and not turn into psychopaths! Mind you, I say this as someone who hasn’t read ‘Push’ by Sapphire, the novel that the movie ‘Precious’ was based on, because I can’t read about child abuse — it hits too close to home.

    Anyway, accolades for ‘Solomon’s’ and my there be many more. You’re a talented writer.

  4. Thanks so much Louise. In my other life as a teacher, I’ve seen too much. I worry about some of the children I’ve met, and I’ll never stop worrying about them. And some of these kids have amazing parents. I just know that there are no guarantees when it comes to our precious little people, and that is terrifying. I’ll probably read it one day.
    As mentioned in a previous post, I truly believe that reading fiction makes us more compassionate and empathetic, because we have to ‘step outside of [ourselves]’. 🙂
    Thanks again; it is so important for a new writer to get positive feedback here and there! I’m thrilled.

  5. I love this post, Kristen. Like you, there are books I just dread reading, and We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of them. Foal’s Bread is another. I just read MJ Hyland’s’ This Is How’, because I was on a panel with her at MWF and halfway through it got so dark I had to stop. For a week! It was hard to return because the subject matter was so dark. And it wasn’t even tempered by beautiful prose.

    I agree that Elemental is a great example of a book that has just the right amount of sweetness to compensate for the pain. Madeleine Thien also does this brilliantly in her novels.

  6. Thanks, Annabel. I find that I go through periods when I can better tolerate bleak fiction. The time is definitely not now. Bring on ‘The Ark’! Apocalyptic disaster, I can do; drawn out existential misery…not so much at the moment.
    I hope you’ve come back from the Melbourne Writers Festival feeling fulfilled and inspired. I’m off to Margaret River for a timely writers’ retreat. My cup runneth dry (my three year old just emptied it all over the carpet) and I’m looking forward to focusing on my writing for a couple of days. 🙂

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