Beautiful, funny writing. Incisive, even if this is a familiar plot – picking up after boy meets girl, zooming into the marriage in the time of children. This time, the story begins with a false start and a heart breaking choice, and for these deeply introspective parents that decision recurs with intimidating frequency. Not that they have to decide to have an abortion again and again – but they are forced to consider what it means that they had an abortion again and again, even as they raise their son.
The main characters (styled “the father”, “the mother”, eventually “the son”) are a family of writers, and they are fond of word play. This reminded me a bit of writing by Jenny Offil – an intimate look at marriage, but this time from the husband’s point of view. The primary subject here is being a parent, and all of the choices that parents much make from birth through young childhood. My own children are 9 and 10, so I deeply understand so much of what this writer describes. Parenting is both monotonous and momentous – and he captures that quite well. But on top of writing about choices and parenting, Davies is really writing about the shame of parenting. For the father (and very likely for the mother, although we don’t hear her point of view often) his shame is for the choice they made to have an abortion in their first pregnancy after receiving very troubling test results that indicated that fetus was more likely to have serious complications than to survive. All of parenting is a guessing game, really, and they had to make a huge decision very early on for what they considered to be their first child – pain and suffering now or later? Whose pain and suffering?
It’s rare to read a very direct story about abortion written by a man, and for very good reason. Davies even writes about the father, a professor of writing, teaching his students about ethical writing practices – it’s one thing to imagine someone else’s life, but when writing about someone else’s experience, it’s important to consider who you are as a writer. Can a man understand an abortion in the same way as a woman? I think that in this book, both Davies and the Father understand that even when the experience is close and intimate for them, they are largely and always on the outside of the Issue. This abortion was personal, and it made this father feel these things. Although the father is struggling with it, he basically grasps that he really doesn’t have much of a place in the larger conversation about abortion (as a political issue, or about anyone else’s body). I think that overall this was quite well done, nuanced and heartfelt.