Gothic parenting memoir

2009-08-19 00:00

CAPE Town writer Lisa Lazarus doesn’t mince her words when ­explaining why she wrote The Book of Jacob (see review here) — her joint memoir of a couple’s journey into ­parenthood.

“I wrote it because I was cross, in truth I was furious — the book really burst out of me,” she said at the recent launch of the book, which was ­co-written with her husband, University of Cape Town philosophy teacher Greg Fried. “It was this feeling that sparked the book, like I’d been conned in some way.”

Everyone who has been through the joy and trauma of having a child will relate to Lazarus’s sentiment, knowing that, with the exhilaration of the beloved precious bundle comes a great deal of hard work, deep feelings of failure and loss — and many sleepless nights.

Her husband has this to say: “The Book of Jacob doesn’t look like the other books in the parenting section. The other books are in bright colours with cute infants and serene or laughing parents, books pleading to be adored.

“Our volume, with its haunting, ­silvery gleam, like a Victorian photo of a seance, mixes strangely with its companions. When we first saw its ­eerie grey-blue among the gaudy shelves of Exclusive Books, we realised that we’d broken into a new ­genre: the Gothic parenting memoir.”

He goes on: “In fact, its appearance is entirely appropriate to the material. If you take pleasure in sudden screams in the night, the feeling that something is about to go terribly wrong, long confinement within a small space, unexpected denunciations from blood relatives, long brooding followed by spasms of rage, bursts of hysterical laughter, then our parenting memoir is for you.”

It is this kind of humour that pervades The Book of Jacob — a book which had me giggling — and occassionally shedding a tear — from the preface all the way through. It tells the story of a young and happily married couple who decide to have a baby.

“We had decided that we didn’t NOT want to have a baby,” declares Lazarus. “This is not a good reason nor a clever one to have a child.” But that was the only reason she had.

Her poor track record with children didn’t help. She had been fired, in her 20s, from a job looking after children because, as the father bluntly put it: “The kids don’t like you.”

Early on in the book, we are told how Lazarus summons her husband to the bedroom where they have ­“baby sex”. Against their expectations, she falls pregnant immediately and the couple, accustomed to a wonderful life together, are forced to hit the ground running. Despite the ante­natal classes and the first aid courses for infants, they realise nothing has prepared them for a baby.

In honest, often hilariously funny or poignantly sad style, this couple ­provide his and her versions of their daily toils in raising a baby during that tumultous first year.

Lazarus says: “It felt like a rickety row boat, lost at sea, heading into the distance … knowing only what I’ve left behind, and with a terrible longing for what that was.”

When Lazarus’s friend Shani, the ­perfect mother, visits, she relates how once she had a child, her whole life made sense. At that stage, Lazarus ­contemplates tranquillisers.

Despite some of the hair-raising moments described in the book, Greg and Lazarus are doing fine. There’s even talk of a possible second child.

As Lazarus puts it: “Despite the very long, and very treacherous journey in our boat we, the three of us — Greg, Jacob and I — eventually bumped up against land. We managed to pull our boat up to shore, get off and take a look at this new country where we found ourselves.

“It’s a vast place — this country, which is not really a country, but rather a new state of being, parenthood — and from the small part I’ve seen (because I’m still really exploring the edges of this foreign world) it’s a rich place, mountainous, with great peaks and troughs. Many dangers but also many joys.”

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