by Paula Bomer *Check out Paula’s Meet the Writer feature!
Soho Press, Inc., 2012
“It is a seductive position writers put the reader in when the create an interesting, unlikeable character–they make the reader complicit, in ways that are both uncomfortable and intriguing.”–From Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
In Nine Months, a novel that begins at the end then takes us back to show how we got there, Paula Bomer puts her naughty nature as a writer up front. In the first paragraph alone, be prepared to read words like “bloated,” “ripped and torn,” and “yellowish-green umbilical cord.” She puts “placenta” and “hurdles” in the same sentence. Of course, she wouldn’t be Paula Bomer if she didn’t. Or, maybe you won’t be prepared for Nine Months, the novelization of the anti-mother, because you haven’t read Bomer’s collection Baby.
Meet Sonia, the lady who is married and pregnant (again—how inconvenient!) just when her two boys are getting out of diapers. Just when Sonia is about ready to take up painting again, like she did in college. Back when she used to sleep with her professors. Back when she was “someone.” If Nine Months had a thesis, I dare suggest the book argues children make you old and no fun (fun is for individuals). Sonia’s personality was so divided to me: one minute she’s hugging her kids, the next minute she’s giving them the stink eye. What does this mean? Is there no coinciding between mother and child? Must it be love or hate and never “you exist and I appreciate that, but I’m going to work you into my life, not make you my life”—Sonia doesn’t seem to think so. Because Sonia is so flip-floppy in her attitude toward motherhood, you either love or hate her (just check the Goodread scores!).
But Bomer’s book, both disgusting (hemorrhoids!) and funny (ahhh, masterbation), points out some deeply ingrained societal issues. Another mother (“educated, white, middle-class”) points out that her youngest kid, a girl, “helps me pick up after the boys. She’s just a baby, but she knows how to pick up. My boys don’t, of course.” Have these boy children no sense of self-pride? Sonia’s friend tries to put Sonia’s unexpected/unwanted pregnancy into a better light, suggesting this baby might be a girl: “Everyone needs a daughter…Who’s going to take care of you when you get old? Your sons? I don’t think so.” Girls and woman: maids, wombs, sex providers. After giving her husband a blow job, he returns the favor to Sonia in the morning by picking up and making breakfast. “Why is this special,” she asks, “Why don’t you give me your best shot every morning? Why don’t you feel any obligation around here? All I can say is, I’m never sucking your fucking dick again. You got that? Never.” The points Bomer makes about expected gender divides are made clear without sounding preachy. Honest dialogue comes from Sonia on these topics, even when she sounds “bitchy.” Sonia tries to figure out what it means to be a mother through her interactions with others, and everyone seems to lean toward female = self-sacrifice (whether a mother or not).
I’m sure other book reviews will describe how Sonia flees her family and goes on a road trip, ingesting drugs and having unprotected sex at a rest stop. But I think focusing on the fringe behaviors misses the big picture of the story. It’s a rambunctious book, one that wants to cover a lot, but if you’re only reading to find out how “naughty” Sonia is and how her husband will react/punish her (or how the reader would condemn her), then Nine Months will end on an empty note indeed.
*Review originally published in JMWW