cover image Raising Raffi: The First Five Years

Raising Raffi: The First Five Years

Keith Gessen. Viking, $27 (224p) ISBN 978-0-593-30044-2

Russian American novelist Gessen (All the Sad Young Literary Men) renders the daunting frontier of new parenthood with tenderness and humility in these eloquent essays about rearing his first child. In “Home Birth,” he recounts the rush of self-doubt that came when he and his partner, writer Emily Gould, found out they were expecting: “How was I going to make sure the baby didn’t interfere with my work?” Instead, when his son Raffi was born, Gessen writes in “Zero to Two” that his new job became obsessively monitoring Raffi’s breathing and “looking up the colors of his poops online.” This seriocomic tone infuses most of the book as Gessen recounts the joys of “mundane and significant” moments like reconnecting with his roots by teaching Raffi Russian (“our own private language”), diving into the world of picture books (“Seuss... turned out to be a real piece of work”), and becoming humbled when the Covid-19 pandemic forced him and his wife to become de facto pre-K teachers at home. Together these meditations coalesce to movingly convey the beauty of ceding control, despite how messy things get. As Gessen concedes, “When your baby is born, you think you... are going to be a certain kind of parent. It’s all a fantasy.” New parents will find no shortage of laughs, cries, and solace here. (June)