This summer I wrote here about Joanna Walsh’s ‘Drowning’, a story where a mother pitches herself into the sea. “It is my choice,” she announces, wading deeper into the water. Irresolute, the story leaves the reader gazing upon this sea-bound figure “moving arms and legs”, suspended there, where “despair turns quickly over to happiness and back to despair again,” near-drowning, near-happily-ever-after, not sure.
It’s a theme I want to tease out, a canon, or even a ‘countercanon’ (as Lauren Elkin put it in The Paris Review earlier this year), compiled of short stories that give voice and form to experiences of motherhood, and mothers-as-subjects. To put together an anthology, perhaps not quite a dozen, but certainly a few, to thumb, to clasp close, to pocket. Because, on becoming a mother, finding yourself at sea, suspended in that abyss, near-drowning, near-happily-ever-after, not sure, isn’t there that need for a body of literature… a body of literature that recognises this self-become-mother, and in which you recognise your self?
There are plenty of ways of thinking about this thing of motherhood in literature, but Maggie Nelson pretty much nails it in The Argonauts, when she says, “But here’s the catch: I cannot hold my baby at the same time as I write.” So, here’s the catch: the practice of mothering gets in the way of writing about it. Sure. But also, aren’t there some brilliant short stories depicting motherhood? And, I just wonder what sort of poetics they conjure when anthologised?