Sunday, July 28, 2013

An Excellent Book Unhinges Me

I finished a book today. It is my 13th book of summer, and I was really, really enjoying it. However, this particular book had a very peculiar effect on me.

It's Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. A Pulitzer Prize finalist. A breathtakingly beautifully told story of a family of alligator-wrestlers who run the sort-of theme park "Swamplandia!" on an island in the Everglades who fall spectacularly apart when their mother, the glue that held them all together, dies tragically (I'm not giving anything away, this happens in Chapter One, or at least in the portion you'd get as a Kindle sample, and may even be on the back cover copy). Everything goes wrong and all three siblings go in their own directions for themselves or for family. It is not neat and tidy. It is very convincingly told in part by a 13 year old narrator, Ava, who you feel very nervous for. There is some magic to it, but a lot of realism, and the magic starts melting into a very unsavory reality in the last third of the book particularly.

Without giving too much away, because I did think the book was excellent and I don't want to ruin it for those who want to read it and haven't yet, this book had a wallop of an impact on me. It doesn't have an infertility subplot, even though the tragic death is from ovarian cancer. It had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH INFERTILITY. But I cried when I finished this book like someone very close to me had died. I sobbed until I felt nauseous. It probably didn't help that I had a wonderful, wonderful visit with my best friend this weekend, after two years of not seeing her face. And seeing her face for 24 hours (minus sleeping time) was absolutely fabulous, but when she left I felt so sad. In part because it was such a sweet but short visit, and in part because while I really want to see her soon again I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN. At least not in a fair way, anyway. I want to say that I will come down a weekend in the fall, but at some point this fall we are doing our FET and I won't want to travel with needles. Traveling with needles is not something that I ever enjoy doing (who would?) and I avoid it like the plague. Also, assuming (because I have to) that we are GOING TO BE SUCCESSFUL with this next frozen cycle, I am pretty sure my first trimester I am not going to want to travel. Again with the needles. Even though her husband's a doctor and could give me my butt shot, I'm not sure I want my college friend (the husband) giving me a shot in the butt. Plus I'd be far from my clinic, which makes me nervous. So that kind of stinks. Then, when she said, "We have to see each other at least within a year!" I opened my big stupid mouth and said, "Well, duh, you have to come to my baby shower" and immediately started crying. In part because it is so hard for me to believe that that is actually possible in the near future, and in part because I couldn't believe I said that so cavalierly. I am afraid of jinxing, which is ridiculous and childish but it's there. If you say it out loud it can be taken from you. (I am also afraid of Candyman, so there goes all my credibility.) So, it was in this post-farewell-already-sad-and-even-bereft state that I read the last 1/4 of Swamplandia!.

There was just so much loss. Things gained, but I took such an incredible sense of loss in so many ways away from this book. Beautiful loss that is presented in the kind of writing that can make you sob for twenty minutes until you nearly puke. It was just so unexpected. I mean, not the loss, as there is an undercurrent of it from the getgo that ebbs and flows throughout the book. But the level of loss that I felt and the sadness that I felt in Ava's experiences was almost primal. It opened some floodgate that somehow hadn't been released yet since our recent failure.

I am dying to talk about this book with someone who has read it, because I'm wondering if certain events affected others the way they did me or if I am just seeing everything through the lens of loss, my loss and cumulative losses, and that's why I felt so devastated. My eyes are still puffy from the crying and it is nearly five hours later. I just can't bring myself to spoil it for everyone else. This is what infertility has done to me--I feel as though I am incapable of experiencing anything without having it run through me and touch those parts that have been forever changed by my complete and utter failure to procreate. Yes, I know that sounds harsh, but it's how it feels right now--like a consuming failure. Every negative compounds the losses of when I actually was pregnant and then lost it, because it alters my ability to trust that that is even possible again. Will I get to wear my belly bands again, on my actual unbuttoned jeans  and not as a makeshift modesty thingie under an apparently see-through top? (Works great, by the way, if you are looking to repurpose early maternity undergarments. Makes a decent tube top/smoother for under sheerer tops.) Or were those it, my only brushes with pregnancy, brief moments in time forever filed in the past? Every negative is not just a disappointment. It is a downright LOSS.

Interestingly enough, this post has been bubbling up in me all day, and I have been thinking about how I am not capable of a day without thinking/speaking/breathing infertility. At the same time, another bloggy friend wrote a post about this same phenomenon that I loved, Addicted to Infertility? / Jody the Chimpanzee. It is so comforting to know that you are not alone in these thoughts. It is also true that heading into a cycle, I am capable of a much brighter, more positive, hopeful outlook. I feel like there's more ups and downs following this latest failure. I was a mess, but then I made my plan with my doctor (a plan of attack always makes me feel more hopeful), but then I am easily a mess again. Maybe I will be a little less messy once I have a protocol sheet in my hands and a sharps container back on my kitchen counter. Or maybe I have been forever altered by this experience and I will always have these ups and downs and intense feelings of loss that can be so easily triggered by an astonishing novel where I FELT those characters so deeply. Maybe, in truth, this is just a really good review for Karen Russell, cloaked in a lot of my personal experiences with loss.

I think I need something funny next. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated, as I just don't think I can handle another novel that has this kind of effect on me. And if you haven't read Swamplandia!, go do it. Unless you're in a messy place. Then just beware that it is a floodgate key, but totally worth it.


  1. First of all thank you for linking to my post! I don't think anyone has ever done that yet. I feel famous! He he.

    Secondly, that's it: I've got to read this book. It has been on my "to read" list for ages, and this the push I need to just start reading it already.

    I love theme-park-ish settings. Ever read _Geek Love_? Not a tear-jerker, but strange, grotesque, indelible.

    I'm glad to share the phenomenon of IF addiction with you. Good company makes me feel less crazy.

    I'm sure having that protocol sheet will do you wonders. Hang in there darlin! xoxo

    1. You are most welcome! That post really spoke to me and came at just the right time. There's some kindred spirit-ness happening here!

      I have not read Geek Love but I will put it on my list. Not a tear-jerker is a good thing. I don't think Swamplandia! is intended to be a tear-jerker either, but man was it for me.

  2. So glad you got to see your friend...and so sad you had to say goodbye so soon. In situations like that, I often feel myself starting to say goodbye about a minute after we finish saying hello. It's so tough.

    1. Thanks, Em. We actually could not say that she was actually coming until she was on the highway because there were so many possibilities for cancellation (I joked she should put her kids in a bubble for the week to make sure nobody got sick). Luckily everyone went to the zoo with Daddy and it seemed a good time, which makes us hopeful for another visit possibility sooner than two years. So hard when your lives are not on the same path anymore and travel is difficult for such completely opposite (yet kind of related) reasons.

  3. I really liked Swamplandia too, and your post is great. I'm sorry but I have to recommend another tear-jerker. When you are ready, "The Snow Child" by Eowyn Ivey is amazing. I read it and cried, and thought it was so beautiful that I read parts of it again. I won't say any more in case you really are not interested right now, but someday, after you pass through to the other side of infertility, read it. Here's a review:
    And yes, I did read it between IVF #3 and my donor egg cycle. I found it really magical and hopeful, and if anything, it made me grateful that it's not the 1920s and we have options.
    Also, I understand about putting plans and life on hold when you are cycling. It's really hard to plan things around it, but I hope this time it will be worth it. Come on September!

    1. I will put that on my list with a little asterisk! (Yup, I have a list, several, one in a notebook, one in excel, and one in Notes on my iPhone...I am truly a nerd.) I have seen that book and it has intrigued me but I actually have no idea what it's about so I will take your word for it that it's probably not a good one to follow Swamplandia! but will read it later on... Yes! Come on September! And thank goodness we have these options. It's amazing that it wasn't so long ago they didn't exist. What a gift...