cover image After Birth

After Birth

Elisa Albert. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23 (208p) ISBN 978-0-544-27373-3

Albert (The Book of Dahlia) applies a blistering tone to modern motherhood in this cri de coeur of a novel. Six-months-pregnant Ari couldn’t wait to leave Brooklyn for the faded glory of Utrecht, N.Y., and its affordable four-bedroom Italianate with her supportive professor husband, Paul, 15 years her senior. Now, Ari has one-year-old Walker, a C-section scar, and an unfinished dissertation in women’s studies. Faculty life isn’t the “deranged orgiastic laser show” she dreamed it would be. About the women in her C-section support group she says, “A chore, trying to talk to these women.” So Ari pins her hopes for friendship and connection on Mina Morris, former bass player for the Misogynists, a late-’80s all-girl band. Mina is now a poet who is subletting from Ari’s friends while they’re on sabbatical. Into this thinly plotted story, Albert interweaves insightful portraits of Ari’s extended family, childhood friends, and frenemies. Our sarcastic and self-aware heroine never spares us her anger, her epic takedowns (“It had an addictive flavor, hating her”), and her attempts to parse her own internalized misogyny. 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. (Feb.)