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Loved and Wanted

Loved and Wanted

Loved and Wanted

A Memoir of Choice, Children, and Womanhood

Loved and Wanted: A Memoir of Choice, Children, and Womanhood / Christa Parravani

Christa Parravani thought a teaching job at the university in Morganstown, West Virginia was the path towards a better life for her young family. Instead, she found herself unexpectedly pregnant a year after the birth of her second child. With a tenuous marriage and financial situation, Parravani sought an abortion. Although well within her legal rights, Parravani was ignored and misdirected by medical professionals. Once she understood she’d need to leave West Virginia in order to attain a safe, legal abortion, she felt her pregnancy was too far along.

What begins as one woman’s quest to come to terms with a pregnancy she didn’t plan becomes a searing portrait of the way systemic injustices fail those who are the most vulnerable. When Parravani delivers a baby boy, it’s clear to her there is something wrong– her son cannot nurse (and quickly becomes jaundiced) or move his arm. But she is swiftly dismissed by medical professionals, just as she was when she sought an abortion. In motherhood and in America, it seems, you can’t win. When the family travels to Los Angeles for her husband’s job, a doctor notes the bump on his clavicle– broken during delivery, and now healed.

This was one I couldn’t put down, despite its heavy subject matter. It is a cutting portrait of modern motherhood, and a deft rendering of place, with Parravani’s exacting prose throughout:

I held my baby son and it felt like I was a skydiver pulling the ripcord. We were falling together and I couldn’t hold him hard enough. He was going down on my watch, just like Cara did. I was in a haunted place, in my home and in my body. I bargained. I couldn’t let that darkness touch my son. My love, she died; but we were still here.

I wondered how a writer would handle writing about wanting to abort a child she ultimately gives birth to and, of course, loves, wants, and fights for. The answer is in Parravani’s advice to one of her students, wrestling with her own memoir: “I assured her that writing is a service, not an act of aggression but of love. People need to be seen and heard. I implored her to remember, to follow the path of bravery, not fear.”

 

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Loved and Wanted

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Christa Parravani thought a teaching job at the university in Morganstown, West Virginia was the path towards a better life for her young family. Instead, she found herself unexpectedly pregnant a year after the birth of her second child. With a tenuous marriage and...

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Love and Trouble

A Midlife Reckoning

Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning / Claire Dederer

At 44, Claire Dederer was suddenly crying a lot and dealing with the intense feelings she hadn’t experienced since she was a young adult. She finds herself digging through old journals, remembering her youth, and drawing connections to her current “inconvenient” feelings.

This memoir has been recommended to me numerous times, including during a workshop I took while I was reading the book (what Julia Cameron would call a synchronicity). 

Dederer’s prose is exactly what I love in a memoir: sharp and clear. What Dederer does well, she excels at: the chapter “How to Have Sex With Your Husband of 15 Years” is a masterclass in writing about your sex life without making anyone uncomfortable. And on the whole, Dederer presents a clear story for a certain point of view; I enjoyed getting to know the narrator through her recollections of love and sex from childhood to early adulthood. I saw myself in many of her stories, and has a hardcore keeper of journals myself, I loved the excerpts from Dederer’s own diaries. However, I found myself wanting more for context (many were only one sentence long) and could never figure out if there was a connection to the material that preceded (or maybe the diary entries were meant to speak to the next chapter? Regardless, I was lost).

The book sometimes devolves into what feels like a collection of creative writing exercises: the ABC’s of Oberlin, not one but two open letters to Roman Polansky, a walking tour of Seattle’s University Way circa the early 1980s, a case study. To me, these felt more like the scaffolding a writer gives herself before settling in to write the actual book.

And for everything that Dederer lays bare, there’s something lacking. Throughout the book, Dederer hints at having lost her shit for 4 years:

“I lay in bed for a year; I cried for two. I got kissed or just chatted up or occasionally groped by men not my husband (not use of passive voice) and wrote them letters and had long phone chats with them. I blew deadlines.  I forgot appointments for my kids. I fell down on the job in every conceivable way: as a mother, a wife, a writer, a friend. I received furious or, worse, concerned e-mails from almost everyone I knew. I fucked up.”

While the reader does see Dederer meeting men who are not her husband, the rest only gets a passing comment at the beginning and end of her memoir. The reader does not see her fucking up in the present timeline, and really not even as teenage-Claire. Perhaps this is something she felt like she couldn’t (yet) write about, but I wish she had, as it would have added much more dimension to the story of her midlife reckoning. What does it look like when an upper middle-class, happily married, mother of two loses her shit? As a future middle-aged woman, I wanted more, the way I used to read pregnancy blogs long before I was pregnant myself.

Despite its faults, it’s a compelling read. Read for its coming-of-age insights and delicate but truthful hand in portraying private moments.

 

Recent Posts

 

Loved and Wanted

Loved and Wanted

Christa Parravani thought a teaching job at the university in Morganstown, West Virginia was the path towards a better life for her young family. Instead, she found herself unexpectedly pregnant a year after the birth of her second child. With a tenuous marriage and...

Love and Trouble

Love and Trouble

At 44, Claire Dederer was suddenly crying a lot and dealing with the intense feelings she hadn't experienced since she was a young adult. She finds herself digging through old journals, remembering her youth, and drawing connections to her current "inconvenient"...

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