Elisa Albert’s previous books, “The Book of Dahlia” and “How This Night Is Different,” are accurate reflections of her ability as a writer to delve into the uncomfortable and come up with insights. Her most recent book, “After Birth,” turns Albert’s critical and insightful eye on new motherhood. Ari is a new mother living in a rundown town in upstate New York, struggling with the changes that come from her new place in life, metaphorically and literally. She meets Mina, former rock band artiste, and from there takes us into the mind of a new mother, the quagmire of new female friendship, and the ever-complex maze of mothering and identity. The book is raw, painful, funny, clever, and true, and will resonate with any reader–parent or not. Albert answered some questions about how her own personal experience as a parent played into her most recent work for Kveller contributing editor Jordana Horn. Make sure to scroll all the way down and enter to win a free copy of “After Birth.”
First of all, I LOVED “After Birth.” How do you feel about this book as opposed to your others? Is it more personal due to your own motherhood?
That’s nice to hear, thank you. Books are a little bit like babies in that they take a long time to make, kind of call the shots for a time, are freaking endlessly fascinating and frustrating in turn, and sometimes you look at them and think WHO ARE YOU!? I don’t have a favorite, but certainly this one’s the brand-newest, so it’s consuming most of my heart and headspace at the moment. It’ll toddle off eventually and I’ll busy myself with the next one.
I found “After Birth” to be the absolutely most honest book I’ve ever read about that first year of motherhood: it’s not all cuddles. The book comes from a very true, deep place. What was your first year like? Do you feel like you have your “sea legs” now?
One of the truest things I ever heard about parenthood is about how the moment you feel like you’ve mastered one stage or phase, the moment you think yeah, I’m rocking it, go me, it changes, and you’re called upon to learn new ropes, rise to new challenges, adapt, evolve, let go, etc. It’s like this super sophisticated ongoing spiritual test, and you can’t just rest on your laurels. I love that. My first year was hard, a big adjustment. I don’t feel like that woman now, but I hope like hell I’d bring her a casserole if she moved in next door.
What has the response to this book been like? Do you see a qualitative difference in the reaction between readers/critics who are parents and those who aren’t?
I’ve been overwhelmed by readers who stay up all night with feverish babies reading it, who write and say it made them think differently, gave them an outlet to grapple with their own experience, isolation, and confusion. Critically it’s been really validating, too, kind of a big fat YES.
There are always some for whom my style hits too close, touches a nerve, offends, elicits a degree of nastiness, but that’s par for the course.
People without kids seem incredibly open, generally, maybe because they can just approach it as literature. Most gratifying are the readers who just say, “Thank you for talking about this stuff.”
Your book also goes into the area of female friendship, particularly vulnerable (I’d argue) after giving birth. How much do you believe the nature of friendship–and maybe the nature of self–changes post-birth?
Everyone’s different, but when you’ve been through the looking glass it’s very, very hard to pretend all is as it was. Birth is a transformation. Friendships have to evolve; they can only be static if they’re surface. This is terrifying and liberating at the same time, I think, because we can’t predict how people change. As Ari says, sometimes the people you expect to be there for you are not there for you, and sometimes the people you never expected to be there for you are very much there for you. Another thing is you have to totally 86 the energy vampires, even if they used to be fun, because there is simply no way to indulge those types when you’re trying to care for children, yourself, your relationship with your spouse. Something’s gotta give.
We’re giving away one copy of this fantastic book to a lucky winner. To enter, fill out the form below. We’ll choose a random winner next Thursday, March 5.