With "Making Babies: Stumbling Into Motherhood," Anne Enright, who won the 2007 Booker Prize for "The Gathering," ventures into nonfiction. The memoir contains Enright's observations from the earliest moments of her children's lives -- those first months when everything is both rote and miraculous.
Enright had years of marriage and authorship under her belt before pregnancy stretched her waistline. She grew up in Ireland in the midst of national debates about contraception and divorce, and frequently harks back to how that influenced her, but not so much as to alienate American readers. The majority of the prose has Enright reaching through the everydayness of becoming a parent to grab at moments of happiness, fear and wonder.
Essays like "Advice" and "Being Two" are spot-on and wise. ("I could say that she is playful, open, stubborn, bossy, winsome, serious, giddy, boisterous, clinging, gorgeous -- but these are words that describe every single two-year-old on the planet, they are not the essence of herself, the thing that will always be there.") Avoiding mawkishness while writing about a topic so laden with sentiment is impressive; Enright's wit elevates this further. She is funny without sneakily patting herself on the back. As she so rightly points out in "Apologies All Round," it's hard to escape that in this genre. ("It is the way we think we have done something amazing, when we have done no more than most other people on the planet -- except we, in our over-educated way, have to brag about it.") Enright deftly avoids the bragging, while still accessing the joy that motherhood brought her.
As she writes in "Baby-talk": "Children are actually a form of brain-washing. They are a cult, a perfectly legal cult. Think about it. When you join a cult you are undernourished, you are denied sleep, you are forced to do repetitive and pointless tasks at random hours of the day and night, then you stare deep into your despotic leader's eyes, repeating meaningless phrases, or mantras, like Ooh da gorgeous. Yes, you are! Cult members, like parents, are overwhelmed by spiritual feelings and often burst into tears. Cult members, like parents, spout nonsense with a happy, blank look in their eyes. They know they're sort of mad, but they just can't help it. They call it love."
These expressions of love are tempered with pithier moments. The section called "Toys" says merely, "Tea sets are good. Also blocks. It's up to you, really -- what do you want to spend the rest of your life picking up?"
But it is the final piece, "Oh, Mortality," when Enright opens a deeply personal vein which grounds the rest, that makes us happiest for Enright's happiness.
Melanie Cremins writes about books at dakimel.blogspot.com.