cover image States of Emergency

States of Emergency

Chris Knapp. Unnamed Press, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-961884-04-5

Knapp’s pensive debut chronicles a year in the life of a couple as they struggle to conceive. In summer 2015, the unnamed American narrator and his French wife, Ella, are living in Paris, having traveled there from Brooklyn for an artificial insemination procedure. When it fails, the narrator, a writer, returns to the U.S., having enrolled in an MFA program in Virginia, while Ella remains in Europe, working as a casting assistant on films in Macedonia and France. After they briefly reunite over Christmas, Ella gets pregnant, using the narrator’s frozen sperm without his knowledge. She loses the baby, and the narrator spends the next summer with her in France, where they again try to conceive, this time with IVF. The author tends to spin his wheels with digressions on such subjects as the plots of 1970s Japanese films, but he keenly captures the highs and lows of the couple’s relationship as they drift in and out of each other’s orbit (“Our whole marriage is this one conversation,” he notes, “repeated with variations at appalling length”). Throughout, the author intriguingly juxtaposes his characters’ complex feelings about becoming parents—a mix of fear and desire—with meditations on global turmoil, such as Greece’s austerity measures, the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, and the 2016 U.S. presidential race. Knapp shows plenty of promise. Agent: Jacqueline Ko, Wylie Agency. (Sept.)