Elisa Albert’s After Birth blew me away. So much so that I just wrote the author an email to thank her for getting it right, and immediately after finishing my library copy I preordered the paperback so it can live in my permanent collection.
Ari is coming on her son’s one year birthday, but her postpartum depression and inability to heal from her traumatic birth experience has her coming undone. When pregnant Mina, a former rock legend, moves to Ari’s small town up the Hudson, Ari sees her chance to make a friend who will last, unlike all the female friends she’s had before, and help her resolve her uneasiness over being a mother. Needless to say, things get really complicated.
What I loved about After Birth is how deeply inside Albert got into the birth/breastfeeding world. She obviously cares deeply about women’s health and is beyond up-to-date on the issues that consume those of us working with pregnant and postpartum women. So many writers who broach these issues don’t seem to have an investment in the outcome, but reading this book it was like Albert cared as much about them as I do. And I’ve never really felt that way reading a fiction book focused on motherhood. The icing on the cake was the feminist angle, how Albert explored the complexity of female friendship and the centrality of the body to those relationships.
I followed up this magnificent read with Denise Mina’s satisfying Garnethill series. I basically love crime novels set in the British Isles (hello, Tana French, Ruth Rendell, Barbara Vine, and JK Rowling), and these books delivered all I hoped they would.
Mina’s heroine, Maureen, is a wounded alcoholic who had a nervous breakdown after beginning to relive her childhood abuse. When her boyfriend is murdered in her apartment, her past comes back to haunt her in a million different ways, and she has to take matters into her own hands because nobody takes her seriously. Her family doesn’t believe she was abused, the police think she’s crazy, and her own mind seems to be unraveling again. Over the course of three books, Maureen faces her demons, both within and without, solves some crimes, and finds herself. There were some initially off-putting shifts in POV, but once I got used to Mina’s style I was fine with them.
(I really don’t know what it is about Britain. I hate Mafia stories and generally have no interest in American crime fiction. Maybe it’s the accents?)