Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley

I have children, but I didn't carry them: I'm the other parent. I have children, but their birth was a long time ago: my younger son was born in 2000.

Which is to say I inevitably read a book like Kid Gloves, Lucy Knisley's comics-format memoir of her pregnancy and the things that came before it, with interest and some knowledge but a definite detachment.

Another way to put it, inspired by a restaurant my family likes in a nearby town: when you have bacon and eggs, you know the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed.

Lucy Knisley, like my wife, was committed. All pregnant people are, and this is a book slightly more for them than it is for their non-pregnant partners (and for adoptive parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and so on). If I wander into criticism anywhere below, remember it's likely that Knisley, having lived it, is right and I am mistaken.

Knisley, up to this 2019 book, had a comics-making career entirely focused on memoir, in ways that may have made a lot of people jealous. My life is absolutely nothing like Knisley's, starting from the basic not-able-to-get-pregnant thing, and she made me jealous a few times - she told the stories she had to tell with grace and insight, making them deeply moving and resonant. There were two books of extended European travel, French Milk and An Age of License. A book about family and learning to cook, Relish. A book about traveling with older relatives, Displacement. And, immediately before Kid Gloves and most relevant to it, the memoir of her wedding and all of the planning and events before that, Something New.

Now that I've scared away the people upset by pregnancy cooties - which more men than you'd expect, and not a few women, have serious cases of - I can get into the Trigger Warning. Knisley had two miscarriages before her healthy baby, and there were some medical complications when she did give birth. For some people, that will mean you want to steer clear of this book, and maybe even have already stopped reading.

But miscarriages are vastly more common than many people (me, certainly) realize: one in four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. Knisley explains what that means while also telling her own story: the strengths of Kid Gloves, like all her previous work, is that combination of personal perspective with deeply researched expertise.

Kid Gloves semi-alternates between chapters about Knisley's own pregnancy journey, starting with her troubles with birth control in earlier years, and with somewhat humorously-titled sections on "pregnancy research," which dive into history, demography, social expectations, sexism, and a lot of biology to give a more factual look at what pregnancy is like or can be like. That makes it deeper and more useful than a "here's some stories about when I was pregnant," and I think of that as characteristic of Knisley's work: she's dependably focused on telling the truth, as deeply and thoughtfully as she can, and not just on telling her own stories.

She's also not shy about talking about the physical side of pregnancy, which may also scare off some of those without uteruses. There's a lot of vomit, a fair bit of breastfeeding, and the whole panoply of other body changes that come when several pounds of growing, moving new person start shoving one's abdomen off in all directions.

Let me expand that: Lucy Knisley is not shy in her work. Her greatest strength is that desire to see clearly, to explain precisely, to guide carefully, to narrate fully - all the things she experienced, all the things she learned, all the things she wants to make sure the world knows. Her art is precise, just a bit cartoony, with soft colors and thin lines, and she's really good at the page that diagrams a pregnant body, or explodes into multiple text boxes to cover multiple aspects of a single thing, or just shows how she felt when something happened. 

Kid Gloves is not for everyone - there's more body stuff in here than will be comfortable for a lot of people - but it's a strong book and one that I hope will find a lot of people who might become pregnant in the future and give them a lot to think about and plan for their own lives. And, along the way, tell them the story of this woman and her family and eventual healthy, happy baby - and that's why people will want to read it.

No comments:

Post a Comment