I find it easier to explain what this book is not, than actually explain what this book is. Here we go: This is not a book about babies. Or yes, perhaps it is, but as much as it is about babies this is a book about books and babies. A book about books, writers, babies, and people without books and babies who find people with babies kinda odd. Or something like that.
Let’s just say that Rivka Galchen´s Little Labors intertwines the labor of a diarist –who happens to be a new mother, and who happens to be a writer a reader and everything in between—with that of the non-fiction writer. Hers is an observation of how the world deals with babies as much as how babies deal with the world, but also this is a sharp analysis of motherhood in the literary scene, “Literature has more dogs than babies, and also more abortions. Most babies who appear in literature are, by paragraph three, already children, if not even adults” (34)
Galchen follows a trail of novels and authors who have or have not included children in their stories, she says: “I can think of no baby in Shakespeare, unless we count Caliban, which maybe we should” (36), she also talks about Frankenstein as Mary B. Shelley’s baby (think about it, it makes sense!), and –my favorite- provides a list with notes on some twentieth –century writers and their relationship with motherhood,
Hilary Mantel, Janet Frame, Willa Cather, Jane Bowles, Patricia Highsmith, Elizabeth Bishop, Hannah Arendt, Iris Murdoch, Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Mavis Gallant, Simone de Beauvoir, Barbara Pym: No children.
Helen Gurley Brown, author of Having it All: no children.
Katherine Anne Porter: No children, many husbands.
Alice Munro: Three children. Two husbands. First story collection at age thirty seven (51).
Need I say more? Oh, yes, I do. Rivka Galchen chronicles accounts of her life with a baby in an elevator, in the street, at a station, and dissects situations –that are so natural and still so odd—with people she has never seen before, her family, and friends, “What a beautifully shaped head she has! the baby´s grandmother said, and then said again, and then said even yet again. Yes, I would say, in response to each head-shape compliment. But I felt uneasy: I had no idea what she was talking about” (28) If there is something I liked about this book is the cleverness of an author who is able to share funny, moving, and witty moments that, at the end, show us the challenges of having (or being) a baby nowadays.
Little Labors by Rivka Galchen has been compared to The Pillow Book, I can relate to this because just like Shōnagon’s this is not a novel, not a diary, not a poetry book, not an essay, not an advice book, but a bold miscellany of all the above.