I recently finished The Zygote Chronicles by Suzanne Finnamore. It is a quick book for two reasons. It is short and it is very easy to read.
The voice of the novel is a soon-to-be mother writing a chronicle of her pregnancy to her unborn child. The word chronicle may turn potential readers awayreaders who suspect this book focuses on the physical condition of pregnancy and is therefore only a good read for people interested in ultrasounds and swollen feet. The physical condition of pregnancy and labor is only one small aspect of the novel, however, and it is written about in such a light and amusing way, that I think many people will enjoy it.
The novel also chronicles the emotional flood that comes with expecting a childthe hopes, fears, and expectationsand I think most people can relate to these emotions, whether from the point of view of the expecting parent or the expected child. Even if we’ve never been parents, we’ve all been on the receiving end, in our mothers’ wombs, in our parents’ imaginations.
Finnamore wrote it in journal form, so it consists of short entries that keep the reader’s attention. I think the journal effect makes the experience of reading the novel intensely personal, but the fact that the entries are written for someone else to read lends the experience uniqueness (at least it does for me). (I kept forgetting that the entries weren’t autobiographical, that the author wasn’t the narrator.) The novel also resembles the “letter” novel, but since only one person is doing the letter writing, the dialogue is one-sided. It is a little like reading the yet-to-be-sent letters of a obsessive crusher to her “crushee”—the kind of letters with which teenage girls confess everything, every moment, to a school athlete or the boy poet in English class. They plan to send the letters one day, but since that day is far away, they bare all. Of course, the “letters” in the novel aren’t nearly as irritating as teenage love.
I do think, however, that the voice in the novel may not be representative of most mothers voices. This mother is very urban and liberal, which may be why she is much more forthcoming and loose with what she tells her unborn child than I think most women would be. She is also older than many first-time mothers. I have no problem believing that SHE writes these things. I just think that a lot of women would probably be a little tamer and less honest about themselves with their children. (But really, what do I know about it?) The same type of chronicle written by another womana suburban or rural woman, a younger woman, a more conservative womanmight also make an interesting novel.
The things that irritate me about the novel are really just things I find irritating about the mother. I just disagree with some of the things she says—some of the advice she gives. Since these disagreements don’t really bear on whether or not the novel is done well, I won’t bother writing about them here. (And besides, I still loved reading the book. I don’t have to get along with the narrator at every turn.)
Most of the entries in the chronicle fall into one of the following types:
Advice or Fragments from a life user manual
Pregnancy foibles and details
Family and self history
Expectations for the beloved embryo
One passage that I really like falls into the self-history category:
At night, I used to creep into the long hallway of our San Francisco flat and sleep in front of the wall heater: I clearly recall the line of gas flame and the cakes of dust around the coils, the gentle roar that meant heat was coming, things were working. I would also sleep at the foot of my brother’s bed, which he allowed with a grace that has characterized our relationship. He has put up with me. I have tried to do the same. We each have a small beige birthmark on our knee. Page 59
Finnamore includes the poem “The Seed Market” by Rumi at the end of the book.
Can you find another market like this?
with your one rose
you can buy hundreds of rose gardens?
for one seed
you get a whole wilderness?
For one weak breath,
the divine wind?
You’ve been fearful
of being absorbed in the ground,
or drawn up by the air.
Now, your waterbead lets go
and drops into the ocean,
where it came from.
It no longer has the form it had,
but it’s still water.
The essence is the same.
This giving up is not a repenting.
It’s a deep honoring of yourself.
When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry, at once, quickly,
for God’s sake!
Don’t postpone it!
Existence has no better gift.
No amount of searching
will find this.
A perfect falcon, for no reason,
has landed on your shoulder,
and become yours.