You know that friend who always makes you ask the journalistic Five W’s? Like, where in the world did you find her? What just came out of her mouth? Who actually says that? When will she lighten up? Why do you keep hanging out with her? How will you explain her appeal to your other friends? Meet my new pal Anne Enright, an Irish author with accolades to spare and a several-tour veteran of her own grisly psychological war.
Enright recorded her first few years of “Making Babies” (i.e., motherhood) in a stream-of-consciousness that varies in degree from babbling brook to rushing river. At one point she writes, “Finished feeding, I go back on the cigarettes. I am addicted to nicotine, but I am also addicted to slipping away for two minutes every hour, and being alone.” At another she asks, “Why do we assume that babies are happy in the womb? They come out looking for your face, so who is to say they are not lonely, all those weeks when there is no face there? And maybe . . . growth hurts, in the womb, as it does outside, and all that squawking in the early weeks is not a mourning for paradise lost, but just making up for lost time.” The resulting part-journal, part-blog format – overlayed throughout by a literary sensibility – continually perplexed and intrigued me.
I found many of Enright’s descriptions accessible, relatable, and marked by that brand of funny that’s not just smart-funny or dark-funny, but smart-dark-funny, like the chocolate raindrop from Godiva that’s filled with ganache and almond praliné paste. For example, she writes: “I measure [other mothers] against myself for age, sudden fat, and despair”; and “[i]f you are a woman and you clean, society thinks that you are fantastically well balanced and sane, . . . which is sort of unfair for the people who have to live with you and are not allowed to wipe a spill off the floor with the cloth that is used to wipe the counter.”
But I often emotionally recoiled in response to the harsh honesty and uninvited intimacy of her confessions, in the way that one dodges a mirror when she suspects her reflection won’t be flattering. Like when Enright says of playing with her children: “I have no problem filling this smiling shell, most of the time.” Not exactly a barrel of laughs. Yet every time I decided I wanted out of her head and fast, Enright pulled me back in with a particularly witty and impersonal observation such as, “I was reared in the seventies, by a woman who had been reared in the thirties, and we were both agreed that getting pregnant was the worst thing that could happen to a girl”; “[i]t is the job of families to reject each other’s memories”; and “I would swap several college degrees for a degree of patience.”
And there’s no denying Enright’s capacity for purely brilliant prose. As a mother and a writer, my favorite line reads: “I am besotted by a being who is, at this stage, just a set of emotions arranged around a gut.” So true, so freaking true. It’s one of those descriptions that once set upon paper seems so correct, that it’s retrospectively self-evident.
In the end, I’m still not sure what I think of her, or the book that seems to be essentially a purchasable, inanimate extension of her, sort of like a discarded wooden leg that bears the nicks and smell of its user’s experiences . . . or something slightly less creepy. So I’ll do what I do with that one friend, I’ll introduce you to her and let you judge her charms for yourself. Try not to be put off by your first impression; she doesn’t exactly put her best foot forward, chapter-wise. If you keep reading, you’ll get to know the real Anne, a mother of two who just wants to relax: “I have eleventy-one gins. . . . I wave across the room, and hulloo and tell everyone they are looking great – though they all look one year older, and for some it is the year that made the difference. . . . Sometime around 10.30 the damaged little fucker who has been tracking you all night comes up with the same sneer as the last time you were out, and you realise, with the predictable, drunken slump, that you have changed while the wide world has remained the same. I’ve had a baby! I’m not! really! interested! any more! Drinking is a group thing and you don’t have a group now – you have a family (damn). It is time to wander out and lose your handbag in a taxi.”