Wednesday, August 11, 2010


The Furies, Fernanda Eberstadt, Alfred A Knopf, 2003, 451 pp

 Fernanda Eberstadt is an author I discovered when I reviewed Rat for BookBrowse. The Furies almost did me in. It is wise and witty while at the same time serious and sad. The author has said on her website, "Few writers...have tackled the subject of pregnancy and children...the whole experience of bearing and giving birth to a baby has gone strangely unrecorded." Well tackle it she does, with the ferocity of a Greek tragedian: note the title. Her recording of bearing and giving birth to a baby is accomplished with excruciating detail, but so is her recording of the power of motherlove and the all encompassing nature of raising an infant: the obsession, exhaustion and joy.

 Eberstadt has written a most modern story. Gwen is a 30-something career woman in the midst of the 90s boom. She works in New York City, lives in a high end apartment, regularly travels the world and loves Russia with a passionate idealism. Gideon lives in a rent controlled dump, creating anarchist puppet theater and harbors a mix of Jewish mysticism and 70s socialist views. Their explosive sexual coupling is straight out of a Joni Mitchell song. At first I thought I was reading about a great love story, with two lost and lonely souls overcoming all barriers to create one of the world's great passions.

 Trouble is, so did they think but parenthood turns out to be their mutual Achilles heel because both are from badly broken homes, from parental abandonment and all they are really seeking is unconditional love though neither is up to the challenge of providing it. This to me was so real, possibly because I have lived it. The first child of such a romance changes everything in a variety of ways. The sex goes bad, the sharing of responsibility for each other and the child is beyond their basically immature capabilities. A child interferes with each parent's conception of personal freedom and tests every one of their idealistic tenants.

 This is not a Jodi Picoult or Anita Shreve novel. It is way more truthful while also being whip smart sassy and based on a frightening array of knowledge about everything from puppetry to post-communist Russia to world economics to New York City politics and more. Fernanda Eberstadt writes like a Fury herself and while her book is not for the faint of heart, it is about how we live now because of how our forebears lived before. It is about the human condition, how we muddle through and the true cost of love. Just be warned that if you read it to the end, it will take you a while to recover.

(I was shocked to learn that this excellent novel is out of print. It is available at libraries and used booksellers.)

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