Published by Soho Press on August 21, 2012
Nine Months is a counterpoint to smiling Super Mommies and happy chatter about the miracle of childbirth. The story is disquieting but told with unvarnished honesty, in prose that is intense and immediate. It’s also very funny.
Sonia isn’t made for the rituals of motherhood. Hanging out with the neighborhood mommies reminds her of high school cliques. She doesn’t agree that children are sacred, that mothers should sacrifice careers and passions to stay home with them. She loves her two boys, envies their unbridled aggression, but raising them does not provide the sense of contentment that other moms seem to experience. At the age of 35, she is deeply ambivalent about having a third child. She feels her accidental fetus sucking the life out of her.
As the story begins, Sonia is experiencing guilt because she is “the worst thing on earth”: a mother who left her children. Even worse, although she’s in denial as she haunts malls and lays around her hotel rooms, she’s due to face the horror of labor for a third time. Sonia thinks she deserves the pain of giving birth; it is a punishment she has earned. After the baby is born, the story backtracks eight months. We meet Sonia’s husband Dick. We follow Sonia through the hellacious first trimester and the blissful second trimester of her pregnancy before, in a moment of panic, she begins a road trip that she defines as a “find-myself mission.” The drive to Indiana and Colorado and Wisconsin seems more like an excuse to escape from the reality of her life than a vehicle to understand her life, but it gives her an opportunity to revisit her past and thus allows the reader to develop some insight into her acerbic personality.
Chunks of Nine Months are long rants, the sort of thing that usually bores or annoys me, but these are so well written and so amusing that I enjoyed reading them. Paula Bomer’s take on female artists and poets and their relationship to motherhood is priceless. Bomer has fun with parents who obsess about preschools, who eagerly medicate their kids, who gender stereotype them (having a daughter means having a helper with the housework), or who “treat their children like a combination between a science and an art project.” Her description of parents who need to find a “disorder” to explain unexceptional behavior -- who fail to recognize that every kid isn’t just like every other kid -- is hilarious. Sonia’s road trip gives Bomer the opportunity to lampoon a variety of lifestyles.
Yet not all of Nine Months is devoted to rage. Some scenes are tender. Some are erotic. A few -- particularly those that focus on Sonia’s reaction to her pregnancy -- are insightful. Whether Sonia is angry, crazy, or horny, she never slacks in her devotion to comical commentary.
My reservations about the novel are few. Some scenes are predictable, as when Sonia recalls (and bemoans) her lost youth. On occasion, Sonia’s judgmental nature wears thin, particularly when she indulges her sense of East Coast superiority. Given that much of Nine Months is a road novel, the sense of place is surprisingly thin -- Indiana is so much like Colorado that I wondered whether Bomer has ever visited either state. The “you can’t go home again” vibe that appears mid-story isn’t terribly original. The “road trip of self-discovery” theme has also been done to death, but this one has some freshness, even if Sonia doesn’t discover anything more profound than “I hate myself when I’m pregnant.”
Nine Months is probably not a book that Super Mommies will appreciate. Nor is it the right book for readers who want characters to behave in exemplary ways. (When, near the end, an ex-lover gives Sonia a rather cruel lecture about her willingness to inflict pain to satisfy her self-indulgent whims, I wanted to applaud.) But Nine Months generates serious laughter, the writing is sharp, and Bomer manages to create sympathy and understanding for Sonia despite her shockingly irresponsible behavior. That’s a pretty good trick for a debut novelist.