Saturday 16 May 2020

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Motherhood by Sheila Heti    {Reviewed by STELLA}
A book about motherhood by Sheila Heti. Or is it? Heti’s ‘novel’, much like her excellent How Should A Person Be? is much less novel and more a series of not-quite-true but ever-so-true deliberations, and an existential rant — but the best kind: indulgent, prescient, intimate (unnervingly so at times) and extremely funny in a strange sideways glimpse at herself and others like her. Although she would almost believe she is the only one obsessing over the question, To have a child or not?  It’s a book about motherhood, about being a parent, and what that relationship means or could provide a person, as much as it is a book about writing and the obsessive nature of creative practice and the need for this self-awareness to be a good creative — an 'art monster' (Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation). Yet Heti is torn between her desire to write and the pleasure, the satisfaction this brings her, and the confusion that swirls in her head about being a mother and whether this will bring her a different completion. As she obsesses about motherhood she questions everyone and observes her friends and family about this elusive — to her —  state of being. She wrongly or rightly presumes that she should have a child, that she wants a child, and on the other hand, she does not. Her dilemma is mired in expectations, both external and internal, and the 'ticking clock', of which women are constantly reminded. Are you past the age of being a worthwhile contributor? Even in 2020, we are judged on our reproductive choices (think about women’s rights over their own bodies in regard to abortion laws), and somehow procreating, even in times of crisis (environmental and economic), is still way up there on people’s to-do lists. Not that Heti is overly concerned about the politics of reproduction or motherhood: her focus is on the intensely personal — on her experience and where these thoughts, these deliberations, take her and the reader. She’s irrational and highly emotional, and this makes her book one of the best about motherhood and the questioning of its function, on an intellectual as well as emotional level. Her book is, in the end, is as much a look at what it means to be someone's child as it is to have a child. Her deliberations take her on a journey of understanding her own mother and her grandmother and their roles as parents and individuals — a revelation that we don’t clearly think about. We know how we are as a child of our parents, but when do we consider what that relationship means from the other view — who we are, what we mean, to the mother (or father)? And if you can’t address your existential question about whether to have a child or not, you can do what Shelia Heti does and consult the coin — heads for yes, tails for no — and ask yourself a series of questions (often ridiculous and very amusing)  about yourself, your intimates and your writing. For this is a book about being a writer. 

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