Saturday, June 13, 2009

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken

This is a memoir of the year between the birth of McCracken's first son and the birth of McCracken's first son. As she writes, "this is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending."

In April of 2006, McCracken was living happily in semi-rural France with her new husband Edward, pregnant with a boy they were calling Pudding until he was born. This wasn't at all the life she'd expected; a couple of years previously, she'd thought to live out her days as a "spinster" (her word) and she was satisfied with that. But she met and married Edward, an Englishman, and found herself in Savary, in the southwest of France, both of them writing for a few months before an expected trip to England in the summer and teaching jobs in America in the fall.

But then, on her "French due date," Pudding died. Two days later, McCracken went through labor for her stillborn son. Soon afterward, they left France forever. In early May of 2007, in Saratoga Springs, New York, McCracken's son Gus was born, healthy and as happy as a newborn ever is.

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination tells the story of that year, from the latter days of the first pregnancy to the early days of baby Gus, in precise, devastating language and dozens and dozens of short, unnumbered chapters. It's a short book with a huge punch; it made me (nearly) cry on the train several times, and I never cry from books. It's powerful and true and paradoxically both raw and carefully measured in its words. McCracken, whom I hadn't read before, is an amazing writer; I'll have to track down her novels.

Don't read An Exact Replica if you're currently pregnant, or may be so soon. But if you can stand to read a story like this, McCracken is as good as it comes in telling it, and she makes it both crushing and uplifting -- sometimes both at once.

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