Paula Bomer spoke at my MFA last August and I’ve wanted to read some of her work for a while after listening to her presentation.
Since her work is ridiculously funny while also being incredibly deep, I thought this would be a nice follow-up to Rachel Cusk’s memoir on motherhood, and it did not disappoint! Bomer is as funny and deep in her writing as she was in person.
This short story collection focuses on the many facets of dysfunction that can (and often do) happen in the nuclear family unit, and it’s a roaring good romp through the snap-shot lives of some delightfully awful characters.
Usually I don’t go for awful humans, even in short stories, but Bomer has a way of building up these selfish, self absorbed, smackable individuals and making you see that you’re only one bad decision away from landing yourself in the same story.
These terrible characters have a soul, a heart, and a purpose for being the heinous, lazy, or simply stupid people that they are, and by the last page you’re completely willing to understand their side of the coin, even if you haven’t found it in your power to forgive them:
The Mother of His Children – this one chronicles a father leaving his wife and two little boys for a business trip, and his remembrance of how his life has gotten to the point where he’s leaving a family behind for a trip by himself. I liked this one since it spends a lot of time detailing how the father’s been traumatized by having to watch his wife give birth and the changes that creates in their love life.
The Shitty Handshake –This one may have been my favorite. Just read it; I can’t say anything without giving it all away. Just read this one.
She Was Everything to Him – this one was the most heartbreaking, as it follows Jon, a father who’s wife has basically emotionally kicked him out of her life since the birth of their son.
If There Were Two Boats – Edie’s man-child of a second son drives her crazy as he goes about marrying a woman Edie hates, daring to produce a granddaughter instead of a grandson, and then deigning to ask her advice on his marital problems.
Baby – My second favorite: Childless Laura has some pretty specific rose-tinted ideals for how motherhood’s going to look for her, and watching it all crash and burn around her is deliciously satisfying.
A Walk to the Cemetery – This was probably the weakest of the collection in my opinion, as Greta was one of the only characters in this collection that I couldn’t really feel bad about at the end. It’s still a well-written story, but I thought it lacked the viper bite that the other stories end with.
Superstition – This one was good, but sad as a man who married for money starts feeling a pull back to his humble roots.
The Second Son – This one was absolutely beautiful. Edie has to learn her new son even though she’s completely and totally attached to her older son, and learning to split herself between her two children is a process in time and emotion.
A Galloping Infection – A sad story of loss that really made me question how certain people end up married.
Homesick – This last one broke me; it’s a beautifully wrenching tale of a professor and an immigrant woman building a family against the odds, and it still exploding in the end.
All in all this was a really enjoyable read, although I would suggest getting the physical book, since the e-reader copy had a ton of typos and strange grammatical issues.