BABY B

Michael Ryan, Author . Graywolf $17 (170p) ISBN 978-1-55597-398-8

Thanks to advances in reproductive technology, the memoir genre has spawned a new offspring: the infertility saga. The plot is predictable: people want a baby but can't get pregnant; they consult infertility specialists, endure various procedures, something works and—happy ending—a baby's born. Poet Ryan's account of wife Doreen's struggle to get pregnant follows the usual plot, but there's a worrisome twist: what looked to be a single embryo became triplets and, for a few harrowing weeks, even quadruplets. Ryan's humor is wry and somewhat understated—at 53, he figures "[b]y the time the triplets graduate from college, I will be wearing a diaper myself." He describes himself encouraging Doreen to keep up her eating: "I smile pleasantly as I eat nut after nut, merrily cracking the pistachios. She may not be gaining weight, but I am." When their Lamaze class learns the "Indian dancing" technique that makes them all look like "finalists in a dance marathon," Doreen tells him, "I think you are spraining my neck," and they drop out. While the baby-making story takes center stage, there's a delicious side act here, namely Ryan as the husband-to-die-for. He spends two whole pages describing how he fixes Doreen's toast and eggs, so they're just the way she likes them. He does 100% of the housework for months because Doreen has to stay flat on her back in bed to protect the embryos. He literally spoon-feeds her so she doesn't strain any muscles sitting up to eat. Ryan will strike readers as not only a superman of a husband, but also as a witty, thoughtful writer. (May)

Forecast: Portions of this book appeared in the New Yorker, and Ryan is a reasonably acclaimed poet, which may give this book an audience. Houghton Mifflin will publish his New and Selected Poems in April ($22 160p ISBN 0-6184-0854-1).

Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
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