An artist finds herself pregnant with an unexpected -- and possibly unwanted -- third child.
'Raw" is the word that comes up again and again in comments on Paula Bomer's earlier work, "Baby and Other Stories." And "raw," in every sense, is an apt word for Bomer's first novel, "Nine Months," the story of an unexpected, wildly ambivalent pregnancy -- the third for a painter just primed to return to work. The nerves are exposed, the emotions are bare and the language is brutally frank, which is often exhilarating, occasionally funny and sometimes simply rough.
Taking place at the nexus of sex, art and motherhood, the novel is an extended riff on the nature of creativity -- but it doesn't feel like anything so lofty, down and dirty as it's written. Sonia, the 35-year-old mother of 4-year-old Tom and 2-year-old Mike, lives in Brooklyn with Dick (what else) her hardworking, remarkably enlightened husband of 10 years. In her past, which she revisits (or tries to) when her accidental pregnancy unhinges her, is a heady period of artistic and sexual experimentation centered on art school and a few outsize personalities. And it's in the tension between that past, with its vision of power, and the present, with its overpowering demands, that the story takes place.
The book, you should probably know, is incredibly foul-mouthed. But the language is fitting for an account of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood that owes nothing to Hallmark and everything to hormones. A good part of the novel, in fact, is rants -- against childless artists and sexless mothers and endlessly needy children -- and it's awful and funny and true. When Sonia, well into her pregnancy, abandons her husband and children for a bacchanalian, retrospective road trip, Bomer has done her work so well that every wacky thing that follows -- and there are plenty -- seems not just credible but perfectly likely.
What's most impressive and artful about "Nine Months" is how artless it seems, as if the story is immediate, unmeditated. But convincingly managing such insights, endlessly shifting and contradictory, within the experience of one character is mastery of a rare sort, and in the character of Sonia, Bomer has captured the strange sort of fractured and unsatisfactory truth that so many of us live.
Ellen Akins is a writer in Wisconsin.