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There is so much density of thought and feeling contained in this beautiful tiny book about new motherhood that it feels like holding a collapsed star. Each essay, some only a sentence long, reads like traveling through a winding tunnel of light—Galchen telegraphs with utter clarity the total chaos of her mind, grown more chaotic now that she’s caring for a baby girl (“a puma moved into my apartment, a near-mute force”). The tension between being a writer and being a new mother, of having an identity once wrapped around the deepness of one’s thoughts now wrapped around the deepness of one’s maternal love, is present throughout, but the book resists being defined, just as it resists coasting on its own intelligence. “The theory may not hold water, but has at least a dense enough weave to keep in place a few oversized bouncy balls.” This might as well be Galchen’s mission statement, though I think it too modest. Just about every one of her lines in this marvelous book contains the esoteric, yet playful wisdom of an aphorism.— From Lillian
Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book--a key inspiration for Rivka Galchen's new book--contains a list of "Things That Make One Nervous." And wouldn't the blessed event top almost anyone's list?
Little Labors is a slanted, enchanted literary miscellany. Varying in length from just a sentence or paragraph to a several-page story or essay, Galchen's puzzle pieces assemble into a shining, unpredictable, mordant picture of the ordinary-extraordinary nature of babies and literature. Anecdotal or analytic, each part opens up an odd and tender world of wonder. The 47 Ronin; the black magic of maternal love; babies morphing from pumas to chickens; the quasi-repellent concept of "women writers"; origami-ophilia in Oklahoma as a gateway drug to a lifelong obsession with Japan; discussions of favorite passages from the Heian masterpieces Genji and The Pillow Book; the frightening prevalence of orange as today's new chic color for baby gifts; Frankenstein as a sort of baby; babies gold mines; babies as tiny Godzillas ...
Little Labors-atomized and exploratory, conceptually byzantine and freshly forthright-delights.