Happy Mother’s Day, Story366! It’s another lovey day in the Missouri Ozarks—as I predicted yesterday. I have performed decently well so far in my duties, hooking Karen up with some sweet gifts—from the boys, of course—including a new suitcase, as she’ll be traveling in support of her new book this year, some new pajamas, a great brunch at the Indian place we like, and a mini-retreat later this week, when all our grades are turned in. I’ve also sent some stuff to my own mom—a big bouquet of flowers—and my sister/godmother—one of those fruit bouquets. I still have to make the call to my mom, but my phone isn’t charged and I have Story366 to attend to.
I like to do themed posts on holidays—because it’s fun—and Mother’s Day should be no different. My mom doesn’t write stories, so that obvious choice was off the table, leaving me with a good back-up plan: Write about a story utilizing motherly themes, or at least about an author who is a mom. The former should have been harder to find than the latter—you know, without scanning tables of contents and maybe even reading some stories—but as soon as I got to my pile of to-read books, I saw Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant by Aurelie Sheehan and said to myself, “Huh.” I read the title story, noted the motherly themes (more on this soon …), then went to Sheehan’s website and confirmed she has a daughter. So, Mother’s Day commemorated.
Only, it’s kind of weird to pick this story today for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t like stereotyping writers for who or what they are, so I’ll note, I had Sheehan’s book on the stack and would have covered her this week, anyway, so it’s not like I typed “writer moms” into Google and only picked her for that reason, some sort of token mom in a year of non-moms; in fact, Sheehan is the third of three University of Arizona MFA faculty members whose books I bought last month after exploring their program for an interested friend (Manuel Muñoz and Kate Bernheimer being the others).
I also feel kind of uncomfortable doing this story on Mother’s Day, as those “motherly themes” I wrote of earlier more or less refer to abortion, and this coming off the heels of yesterday’s post, Paul Griner’s “Hotei,” about miscarriage. No better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than a weekend of miscarriage and abortion stories! Does this blogger know how to celebrate or what? Tomorrow I’ll have to find a story about infertility, heck, maybe even castration, just to keep the good times rolling.
Again it’s unfair to Sheehan to just peg her story as an “abortion story,” one of those stories that we as writing students were always told not to write. Or was that composition class, no abortion (or gun control or legalizing pot) essays? Anyway, “Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant” is not merely an abortion story: It’s a lot more, a lyrical masterpiece with converging themes on heartache, a truly wonderful and moving piece of fiction.
“Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant” is about a woman, narrating a series of events in her life, events that add up to a larger picture. The storyisn’t really told in a straight-up narrative form, but rather, as vignettes, vignettes that have headings like “How to Make Love to Your Future Husband,” “How to Become a Future Wife,” and eventually, “How to Be Jack Kerouac.” In each, Sheehan’s narrator relays stories from her life, sometimes as more narrative-like anecdotes, played out in scene (using first person), and sometimes as actual pieces of advice, written Lorrie Moore-style, in second person imperative, explaining what you have done and should do. What this all adds up to is a disjointed, non-linear story, one that begins to make sense once you get what Sheehan’s going for, once all those pieces, all those events, all those images, come together and start to form a picture.
If I had to summarize the story, I’d have to more or less form a character sketch, as that’s what “Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant” really is. The protagonist in this story, at the story’s telling, has reached a point in her life where everything she knew, everything she was told, and everything she’s does has taken its toll. For example, she was raised to find a husband, one anecdote having her father explain to her, at a restaurant, that she should always order the cheapest thing on the menu, just to make better marrying material. She takes a lover at one point, for the pleasure of having a lover, but it doesn’t last. There are also the aforementioned abortions, the regret and guilt that follows, and a longing to have a child, those children, or new children, by the right partner. The story is about motherhood, but it’s also about love, all kinds of love, which is notably absent from this character’s life.
And then there’s the whole Jack Kerouac angle. As much as the story’s about this motherhood theme, it’s also about escape, and in this story, escape takes the form of Jack Kerouac, his carefree life on the road, writing books on single rolls of paper, taking on lovers, experimenting with drugs, being a hero and a lonely, tortured artist at the same time. It’s this character’s vision of another kind of romance, a metaphor that drives the story in so many ways.
Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant, out from Dalkey Archives, was Sheehan’s debut (she’s written four others since), a collection that challenges the notion of what story is, how stories can be told. Other pieces I’ve read from the book use similar strategies, details, images, and themes piled on one another to form a character, rather than depending on any Freitagian formula for traditional plot or story expectations. I like the book a lot, like Sheehan’s style, as it’s different from anything I’ve read, a beauty in its power that I can’t quite recollect.