31 August 2012

Nine Months: A Novel by Paula Bomer

Flap Copy from ARC: "A young Brooklyn mother, shaken at her unexpected (third) pregnancy, abandons her husband and kids and takes off on a cross-country odyssey. Sonia does everything pregnant woman shouldn't do, engaging in casual sex and smoking weed while on a road trip to retrace her own past and reclaim her sidelined career as an artist."

This novel presents itself as a 'middle finger salute' to the current culture of mommy blogs and political correctness, to the idea of the glowing pregnant woman and the blissful harmony of pregnancy, family life and womanhood. Bomer sets out to share the story of a woman, a mother and wife, who is not so excited to be pregnant again - her experience of pregnancy, not only the physical aspects but also the mental and emotional sides, is fairly miserable. She hates her body, she comes to hate her husband and her friends, and she resents her children even as she loves them.

I think Bomer's idea is a good one. Women do feel an immense pressure to put on a happy face in pregnancy and in motherhood, to be perfect in their womanhood. It's not supposed to be hard, a woman is supposed to flourish in these roles. And Sonia is failing miserably. She's afraid that she's a bad mother and a bad wife, yet all she wants is to escape her life and return to the freedom of her youth. So she does just that, setting out on an unsanctioned road trip for the last three months of her third pregnancy, leaving her husband and children behind in order to reconnect with herself.

I wanted to like this book. I wanted to sympathize with Sonia, with her husband Dick, with the kids. But I couldn't, the characters were detestable and frankly I think deserved each other's mistreatment. Bomer did a fabulous job making Sonia come alive - she is as real a character as I have read in quite some time. Her physical discomfort is alive on the page, as is her terror at the pending birth and her desperate fear that she has lost herself somewhere in the mix and might never recover. Bomer's writing is strong, though at times the thread of the story was lost a bit in the disjointed and rambling nature of the characters' interactions.

Bomer took quite a chance with this novel, tackling the rather taboo topic of an unhappy mother and the choices she must face in attempting to balance her life, her art and her family. The idea was strong, as was most of the writing, but the characters were so unlikable and the dialogue at times so far-fetched that I can't give the book more than three stars - it was readable, but frustrating.