If you want to have children, don’t read this book. The constant worries of conceiving a baby and raising a human being are being told throughout the novel. Having a kid also had a profound impact on a marriage. From sex to masturbation, birth complications to developmental issues, abortion to school shooting, Peter Ho Davies has written a hilarious, heartfelt work of autofiction on modern marriage and American parenting. I loved this book because I can relate to the narrator. Been there, done that.
On sex, page 20:
It’s the best sex of his life, her desire so sharp, so zealous, even if it’s not for him. Perhaps because it’s not for him. He can lose himself, abandon himself. The best sex of his life, yet he’s relieved when she conceives again, and it’s over.
On masturbation, page 100:
He’d taken to masturbating during her pregnancy (retaken, naturally, it was like riding a bicycle), and kept it up, so to speak, ever since. Masturbation had come a long way since he was a boy, he found. All thanks to the internet, of course, but what struck him most was not the sheer volume and variety of images available—though they were astounding; less stimulating than boggling—but the realization of how many people out there were looking at this stuff. Masturbation had always seemed so lonely to him as a teenager, part of its shame being how aberrant it was. (Dimly he senses this is somehow the point of the internet: to spread shame, but so broadly, so thinly, like a light coat of varnish, that we hardly notice it anymore, until we all just glow faintly with it.) Now, judging from what he could see on his computer, the masturbators far outnumbered the couples, and were probably getting more action. Frankly, it has gotten to the point that he’s come to prefer it-quicker, more efficient, less cumbersome than intercourse something for which he feels only an obscure sense of infidelity. Less risky, too.
Three, four, five times a week, like some horny high schooler. His self-stimming. Sometimes he fears he’s addicted, not to the porn, not even to the act itself, but to the shame it provokes. As if it’s shame he’s coaxing from himself, his body.
Still, every so often he weighs a real affair, albeit idly. The problem, more practical than moral, is that he can’t quite imagine sex with another woman. Marriage has rendered the act so mundanely intimate. It’s the slurp and slap of bodies coming together and apart. It’s the furtive postcoital stroke to disguise the rubbing off of bodily fluids on one another. It’s his wife’s fingers discreetly rolling the linty pills of toilet paper out of his ass hair, or the shivery quake when her cunt farts. (“Trumps,” they call these.) It’s her yelp of pain when he pins her hair under his elbows, or the little ouf (less of passion than pressure) she releases when he lowers his weight onto her. These are the things that have undermined their sex life, but they’re also what keep him bound to her. Who else would put up with such indignities, who else could he share them with? Ass lint has no place in an affair!
Marriage, he notes ruefully, is a terrible preparation for infidelity.
But if intimacy is filled with shame; shame—shared and secret—is also intimacy. Shared shame seems to him as close as most of us ever come to forgiveness.
On school shooting, page 184:
And then there’s another school shooting. They’re numbingly frequent, but this is the first since the boy started school. And the father feels powerless. What if you can’t die, or kill, to protect your child? What if you’re not that lucky?
The school principal emails tips for how to talk to a child about bad news. They sit the boy down. They’re nervous, but he’s calm. They have lockdown drills at school, he explains patiently, he knows what to do. They didn’t know about the drills (they don’t read all the principal’s emails). They’re relieved, and appalled. But the boy is calm, matter-of-fact. He is reassuring them. As if it were all perfectly normal, mundane as a fire drill, sensible as looking both ways before you cross or not talking to strangers.
The father is not calm. He rages at the politicians sending their thoughts and prayers. (Here’s a thought: Did your prayers get answered last time?) Rages at the NRA flacks talking about the Constitution (Rights! What about wrongs? Let’s talk about wrongs for once.)
It’s the shamelessness that incenses him.
He fantasizes about protesting a gun store. Standing outside with his own bloody placard showing gunshot fatalities, the number of gun deaths. Shouting “Baby killers” at customers, coming and going. Demanding a waiting period for gun purchases as long as for abortions. Demanding that gun buyers look at photos of gunshot wounds before purchase. Flinging spray pat terns of fake blood on the walls of the store.