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    Books: Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir by Aileen Weintraub

    If a late-twenties Aileen Weintraub hadn’t quit her job at a Manhattan-based children’s publishing company back in the year 2000 to work for AmeriCorps, then become a full-time writer in the wilderness of Upstate New York, she definitely could have been a stand-up comedian instead. (In fact, as I type this, she is being named Humor Writer of the Month by the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton Blogs.) Weintraub, who chronicles her 2005 high-risk pregnancy—a seemingly unfunny subject—in Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir, will have you in stitches by the top of page seven, when she writes of her career shift, “I looked into the depths of eternity, and there were no cubicles down there.” This was the first of many times I wrote “ha!” in the margins before I eventually gave up because #messymargins.

    Weintraub weaves together two overlapping storylines in this book, neither of which is a laughing matter: her father Richard’s unexpected death (emergency stomach surgery followed by an aneurysm), which takes place on the heels of her career change, and the fight for her unborn child’s life a few years later. As it so happens, “Monster Fibroids … bigger than the baby”—of which she is entirely unaware before getting knocked up, let alone knocked down—land our newly-married narrator in a reclined position, and it’s not even Passover yet. (My most recent fortune cookie, and my grandparents, tell me I’m funny too.)

    While Weintraub’s doctors prescribe five months of bed rest for her “incompetent” or “ailing” cervix, there is no remedy for her ailing heart or the antepartum depression that is the result of so many compounding losses. In addition to the very real losses of her best-friend-of-a-father and her autonomy, not to mention the loss of her best girlfriend from Brooklyn, Weintraub deals with her country house falling apart, her husband Chris’s failing new business venture (note to self: do not go into tractor sales), and a fresh marriage on shaky ground. Even her mother’s antidote to everything—all the homemade meatballs in the world—doesn’t seem to be enough to put her and her farkakte upstate life back together, although if Weintraub weren’t a vegetarian, the meatballs might have stood a fighting chance. “It didn’t matter that I couldn’t eat it; the main ingredient, the only one that truly mattered, was pure, organic love,” the narrator writes of Ma’s Jewish medicine, as she continues to go through “some life-changing shit” from the confines of her bed.

    Despite never having experienced even a regular-risk pregnancy myself, let alone one of high-risk, I was eager to read this memoir. The book appealed to me on a human level, even though my husband and I don’t want children. What’s more, I found that Weintraub and I actually have a lot in common, including a penchant for freelance writing, online shopping, and non-Jewish spouses. (Herein lies the rift with former BFF Rachel, an Orthodox Jew, who takes issue with Weintraub’s decision to marry a gentile and ends their friendship.) The author and I also both searched for our soulmates online, although she ends up finding her bashert at the grocery store instead. What’s more, neither of our husbands necessarily “want[s] the whole world to read about [our] previous exploits.” Weintraub, at the time she meets Chris—a kind, soft-spoken man, just like my Eric—is writing a self-help book called The Ten-Second Seduction about her dating life as a “vibrant, self-proclaimed seductress.” The book is currently shelved, or rather sitting in a box at the back of her closet, but she hasn’t completely given up on the idea of publishing it. I, meanwhile, have a pen name I use on occasion to protect my more private, innocent-minded husband. As you can see, with so much overlap, Weintraub and I should really get together as soon as possible for coffee and rugelach. We can meet in the middle, somewhere smack dab between our respective coasts, and commiserate about all that we share, including our partners who show their “stoic side[s] to the world and save [their] heart[s] for [us];” who “provide [us] with peace and [protect] our solitude;” and who had wedding guest lists a fraction the size of our own.

    All kidding aside, Weintraub tackles a traumatic topic in writing this book, and I sometimes wondered as I read it, does her tone match the serious subject, or does it make light of something heavy? (Enter the maternity shirt the narrator’s mother-in-law gifts her: “There’s Big and Then There’s Bubba.”) For me, it’s true that when I don’t want to dig deeper, or I’m just not ready to, I lean into the laugh instead. It’s not as painful. It requires less introspection. And quite frankly, it’s easier. But every time I caught myself asking whether Weintraub was doing the same—being overly reliant on her humor—I came across a healthy dose of authorial reflection, and my concerns disappeared. For each bagel, bris, and brisket joke, or, “It was open season on my vagina” zinger, there was an, “It felt like the first time [my husband] had seen me in months.” For each quip about being “horizontal,” and what that might have meant under more propitious circumstances, there was an, “I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough,” or a, “Something inside me had shifted … I was [finally] sure of who I was and where I wanted to be.” Perhaps it’s true that sad people, like Robin Williams, and even sad circumstances, like bed rest—combined with everything else that could possibly and simultaneously go wrong during the life of one “three-year” pregnancy, as Weintraub jokes—are the most entertaining. Maybe it’s easier to see the levity in a situation when we pair it beside trauma as a counter. (Just think of the ancient Greek tragedy/comedy masks.) Still, a little analysis and unpacking goes a long way too, and Weintraub does her fair share:

    “My husband pulled me close, my face pressing against his mud-covered shirt. I laughed and tried to struggle free, but he held me tight in his grip. We had a long way to go to heal our relationship, especially with the stress of a new baby, but I had faith we would persevere. … For five months I thought everything was falling down around me, but here we were, stronger than ever[,] … [falling] in love … all over again.”

    After reading paragraphs like this one, I felt connected to the couple. I felt hopeful for them and “their whole new life.” I felt a watery substance forming at the corners of my eyes, and it wasn’t from laughing so hard I was crying. So no, the narrator does not overuse her comedic gifts. She uses just the right amount, and it’s a fine line that she walks as deftly as she does becoming a mother—even while not being able to walk at all.  

     
     
    Melissa Greenwood
    Essayist, poet, and book reviewer Melissa Greenwood has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She has been published—both under this name and another—in Brevity, Lunch Ticket, Annotation Nation, The Los Angeles Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Pup Pup Blog, The Manifest-Station, Poke, Neuro Logical, The Erozine, Moment Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, Screenshot Lit, Pink Plastic House, Impostor, the Jewish Literary Journal, Potato Soup Journal, The Muleskinner Journal, Kelp Journal, Rejection Letters, Drizzle Review, Fusion Anthology, The Wave, and Meow Meow Pow Pow, where her flash piece was nominated for a Best Small Fictions award. Her work is forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys and HOOT's Cookbook Anthology. Melissa and her Canadian husband live in LA, where she teaches Pilates, and he teaches elementary school. When she’s not working or writing, Melissa can be found reading, singing, or on the socials.
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    Latest Posts

    Book Review: The Art of Talking with Children by Rebecca Rolland, EdD

    How do you talk to a kid who has fallen behind her peers in reading, or who just lost an important wrestling...

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    Books: Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

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