After Birth

by Elisa Albert

A widely acclaimed young writer's fierce new novel, in which childbirth and new motherhood are as high-stakes a crucible as any combat zone.

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780544273733
  • ISBN-10: 0544273737
  • Pages: 208
  • Publication Date: 02/17/2015
  • Carton Quantity: 12

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About the Book
About the Author
  • A widely acclaimed young writer’s fierce new novel, in which childbirth and new motherhood are as high stakes a proving ground as any combat zone

    A year has passed since Ari gave birth to Walker, though it went so badly awry she has trouble calling it “birth” and still she can't locate herself in her altered universe. Amid the strange, disjointed rhythms of her days and nights and another impending winter in upstate New York, Ari is a tree without roots, struggling to keep her branches aloft.

    When Mina, a one-time cult musician — older, self-contained, alone, and nine-months pregnant —moves to town, Ari sees the possibility of a new friend, despite her unfortunate habit of generally mistrusting women. Soon they become comrades-in-arms, and the previously hostile terrain seems almost navigable.

    With piercing insight, purifying anger, and outrageous humor, Elisa Albert issues a wake-up call to a culture that turns its new mothers into exiles, and expects them to act like natives. Like Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and Anne Enright’s The Gathering, this is a daring and resonant novel from one of our most visceral writers.

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  • 1


    The buildings are amazing in this shitbox town.

       Late eighteenth-century row houses. Dirt-basement Colonial wonders. High-ceilinged Victorians. Clapboards. Wood stoves, crappy plumbing, gracious proportions. Faded grandeur, semi-rot. Clawfoot bathtubs with old brass fixtures rusty as hell. Here and there the odd sparkling restoration. Someone’s nouveau riche marble kitchen.

       Here’s my favorite: four-story brick, three windows wide, with a Historical Society Landmark plaque. Built in 1868. Elaborate molding painted many shades of green. My friends Crispin and Jerry spent the better part of ten years rehabbing it. They’re on sabbatical this year in Rome, those bastards. They sublet to this amazing poet with a visiting gig at the college. Mina Morris. I’m a little obsessed with her, by which I mean a lot, which I guess is what obsessed means.

       The parlor curtains are open and the lights are off.

       I drove Crisp and Jer to the airport, and Crisp handed me an estate-sale mother-of-pearl cigarette case perfectly filled with nine meticulously rolled joints.

       I teared up.

       Medicine man, please don’t go.

       Listen. He lifted my chin and met my eyes in this avuncular way he has. You’ve come a long way. You’re going to be fine. He said it slowly, like I might be very old, very stupid, or both.

       I have five joints left.

       The baby’s first birthday approaches. Still, there are bad days. Today’s not so bad. Today I have fulfilled two imperatives: one, the baby is napping; two, we are out of doors, a few blocks from home.

       Anyway, Mina Morris. Crisp gave me her contact info because we’re supposed to be landlord proxy, Paul and I, take care of anything that comes up with the house while they’re gone.

       Mina Morris. Quasi known as the bass player from the Misogynists. Girl band, Oregon, late eighties. Lots of better-known girl bands talk about having been influenced by them.

       Cold this week, and dark so early. Late afternoon and the light is dead. So it begins: months of early darkness and cold. November again, back around to another. Last November a nightmare blur of newborn stitches tears antibiotics awake constipation tears wound tears awake awake awake limping tears screaming tears screaming shit piss puke tears. My weeks structured around a very occasional trip to the drive-through donut place near the mall, baby dozing in the back. Idling in the crappy old Jewish cemetery across the highway, heat cranked, reading names on crooked headstones, sipping an enormous, too-sweet latte, tapping at the disappointing glow of my device.

       Faint whistle. There goes a train. To the city, probably. Four fifteen. Too late for the baby’s nap now, too close to bedtime. But I’ve given up trying to control this shit. If you have an agenda, any needs or desires of your own (like, for example, to take a shower, take a dump, be somewhere at a given time, sit and think), you’re screwed. The trick is to surrender completely, take your moments when you get them, don’t dare want for more.

       Mina Morris: erstwhile poet, almost rock star. Here, in Crisp and Jerry’s house. Gives me an obscure little thrill, it does. I want to be friends.

       A third-floor light goes on, and simultaneously the baby starts up with the whimpers. I take my cue. Keep the stroller moving, always moving, a reflexive animal sway. Respite over. Maneuver down the block toward the river, up Chestnut, and on home. Put some cheese on crackers and call it dinner.

       Another day gone, okay, and I get it, I got it: I’m over. I no longer exist. This is why there’s that ancient stipulation about the childless being ineligible for the study of religious mysticism. This is why there’s all that talk about kid having as express train to enlightenment. You can meditate, you can medicate, you can take peyote in the desert at sunrise, you can self-immolate, or you can have a baby, and disappear.


       I’m not interested in anything.

       Ari. Babe.

       Which might make sense if I was all consumed with thoughts of baby-food making and craft projects and sleep-training philosophies and bouncy-chair brands, but I really can’t get all that excited about any of that shit either. So basically I have no idea what to do with myself, Paul.

       Babe. Give it some time.

       Fine, I mean, great, but how much time? He’s one, Paul.

       Exactly, babe, he’s one.

       You should just send me away someplace. You should just take me out back and shoot me.



    Utrecht, New York: the valiant but disgusting Bottomless Cup, the filthy antique shop with unpredictable hours, the burrito bar with blurry pane glass. Windowless Ozzy’s, the diviest bar ever, embodiment of dive, hilarious exaggeration of dive: jaundiced, wispy-haired men in stonewashed denim smoking endless cigarettes and playing pool on a disintegrating table at eleven in the morning. The tiny cheesecake-burlesque joint run by kids (it’s funny how you start calling them kids) who graduated a few years ago and are committed to local regeneration. They smoke weed and bake all day, act sort of put out when you come in wanting a slice of caramel toffee and some tea. Long-empty storefront, recently empty storefront, long-empty storefront.

       Two hundred miles directly up the river on the east side, forty-five minutes past the sweet antiques, the second homes. A town, I guess you’d call it, a once-upon-a-time town, some blocks of cheap, amazing, mostly run-down houses crying out for restoration by the likes of us. We are happy to oblige them, the houses. We live like kings. When Paul got this job I was six months pregnant and we thought: okay, yeah, go fuck yourself, Brooklyn! We spent like a hundred dollars on an amazing 1872 four-bedroom Italianate with a killer porch and congratulated ourselves on the excellent aesthetic of it all, no “good” school district for miles, relatively low volume of hyper-ambitious creative aspirants, stoic wide planks groaning wisely underfoot.

       Our accountant works out of the creaky Albany townhouse where Herman Melville spent part of his childhood. There’s an okay coffee roaster, a tiny wine bar, a tinier used-book store, and a shitbox convenience store. And the food co-op two towns over where I work Fridays like a good little citizen. Sometimes I even wear the baby around in a sling.

       The college in town is pretty much its own thing — rich kids who didn’t get into fill-in-the-blank — and the town, or the quasi town, has been in varying stages of rot for a while. Some faculty live in this handful of blocks, in these amazing, intermittently neglected houses sloping down toward the overgrown banks of the river; others live in head-shakingly unattractive suburbs spreading out like rays from the sun of the mall north of here. A stubborn few actually commute from the city, refuse to be separated from that fucking city, not even for wildly affordable pocket doors and stained glass and exquisite molding and antique tile and anti-glamorous/glamorous social annihilation.

       In the early nineteenth century, Utrecht was the center of shirt-cuff manufacturing, big bustling factory supported the entire town, until a succession of pat...

  • “Elisa Albert’s brilliant new novel…It’s obscene, reckless, vicious, hilarious and above all real…it ought to be as essential as ‘The Red Badge of Courage.’…Albert has inherited the house Grace Paley built, with its narrow doorways just wide enough for wit and tragedy and blistering, exasperated love…”   
    —Merritt Tierce, the New York Times Book Review


    "Albert's scathing send-up of modern motherhood boils with dark humor and brutal honesty." 


    "A smartly acerbic exploration of motherhood." 
    O, The Oprah Magazine


    "[A] wonderful primal howl of a novel." 
    —Sam Sacks, the Wall Street Journal


    "An entertaining take on the vicissitudes of female friendship" 
    The New York Times 
    “In its unremitting coarseness and ferocity, her language takes the sentimental platitudes that all mothers are fed (lies!) and spits them back with purifying fury.” 
    The Washington Post

    "Albert has given us a portrait of modern motherhood that will provide insight for some and provoke others. For others still, in its quieter moments, as it reaches for an honest way to talk about birth, it will be like that big old bell ringing in them, a reading process of recognition and reunion." 
    The Guardian 

    "After Birth roars with the anger of betrayal. Albert is abrasive and sharp, intelligent and painfully real. There is no room for gentleness in her novel, no time to waste looking for a kinder way of speaking. [It's] looking for a fight, it’s unladylike, it’s pissed off, and it’s going to tear everything you thought about birth and motherhood to shreds." 
    —Jeva Lange, Electric Literature


    "Albert [has a] light touch, comic timing, and [an] ability to move effortlessly between registers...After Birth is a political novel, and a feminist novel. It’s full of anger and frustration and heartache. It is also hilarious and entertaining...fresh and daring." 
    —Alexis Nelson, The Los Angeles Review of Books  

    "Anyone who's just had a baby absolutely needs to read this." 
    —Emily Gould, Paper Magazine
    "I am helpless with love for Elisa Albert’s work. Something about her voice and her style, not to mention her subject matter, just does it for me in a way no one else’s books do, and I’ve been salivating for years for her to come out with another one...Albert is great on the darkness at the heart of all kinds of hallowed intimacies, and even when you’re gasping, appalled by the narrator’s pinched, cruel worldview, you’ll never stop reading." 
    —Emily Gould, The Millions 
    "As sharp as a fresh-cut diamond...Bright, angry, very funny, diving into uncomfortable truths about the female body and female behavior, this novel has it all." 
    —Flavorwire, "10 Must Read Books for February" 
    "Albert turns her now-trademark dark humor and merciless lens on the first chapters of life from the perspective of a new mother, and the result is a perfect balance of light and dark...[Her] writing excels." 

    "In lesser hands, Ari might be unlikable, but Albert imbues her with searing honesty and dark humor, and the result is a fascinating protagonist for this rich novel." 
    Publishers Weekly 
    "After Birth is a voluptuous, hilarious, scaldingly and exhilaratingly honest account of new motherhood, emotional exile, and the complex romance of female friendship. I'm a huge Elisa Albert fan, and in her latest she has perfected a tonal pivot that whips the reader from laughter to revelation in a sentence." 
    —Karen Russell, author of Sleep Donation and Swamplandia! 
    "A deep, funny novel about the terrors and exhilarations of love in all its forms. Elisa Albert writes with startling clarity and furious wit about marriage, motherhood and friendship, illuminating these familiar landscapes with lightning flashes of revelation." 
    —Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation 
    "After Birth is a fast-talking, opinionated, moody, funny, and slightly desperate account of the attempt to recover from having a baby. It is a romp through dangerous waters, in which passages of hilarity are shadowed by the dark nights of earliest motherhood, those months so tremulous with both new love and the despairing loss of one's identity—to read it is an absorbing, entertaining, and thought-provoking experience." 
    —Lydia Davis, author of Can't and Won't  
    "Bukowski wrote that he preferred people who scream when they burn, and nobody burns, or screams, like Elisa Albert—a fiercely intelligent, dark and funny woman unafraid of her own anger." 
    —Shalom Auslander, author of Hope: A Tragedy 
    “Darkly funny and impossibly wise, Elisa Albert creates a visceral sense of entrapment, a spot-on account of life as a woman. After Birth is dangerous, gripping, and essential—The Bell Jar of our time."—Diana Spechler, author of Skinny 
    "Ari is the profane, generous, poetic, desperate, loving, terrified best friend we all hope for.  Sleep-deprived and thrumming with the electricity of new motherhood, she stumbles upon pockets of community and support in places expected and unexpected that cut through her small-town isolation and the clutch of post-partum depression.  Elisa Albert wields humor like a blade in relaying Ari’s thoughts, and is a master of conveying the gorgeous struggle of birth and all that comes after." 
    —Katie Presley, BookPeople, Austin, TX 
    "WOW! Albert's novel rips the lid off what it is really like to be a new mother in today's United States. Ari, our narrator, is the mother of a 1 year old boy, and she is still having trouble settling into or even defining the role of "mother." Giving birth by C-section makes her feel like a failure, and the snide comments made about breast-feeding by her husband's colleagues at faculty events inspire homicidal thoughts. Not so much a novel as  a hyper-articulate rant about society's commodification of childbirth and maternity, After Birth will have mothers (and others) talking long after they've finished this provocative call to arms." 
    —Susan Taylor, Market Block Books, Troy, NY 
    "Albert says everything women think, but don't say, unless they are speaking to their best friend. I laughed out loud. A lot. As a mother of two, I loved how she explored this time, after the birth of a first child, with bare-bulbed honesty and an acerbic wit that gave way to humor around nearly every turn. This is the first book I've read that does this after birth period justice, and I've already recommended it to new, as well as more established, mothers."  
    —Michaela Carter, Peregrine Book Company, Prescott, AZ 
    "With honesty, wit and a cool eye Elisa Alb...