We're Pregnant: A book review
We're Pregnant is a set of three short stories written by Nathan Martin with photography by Akasha Rabut, Sophie T. Lvoff, and Grissel Giuliano created in response to the texts. It is published by Press Street, a New Orleans literary and visual arts collective.
Thus does one narrator prefigure the life of his son in We’re Pregnant. Such high paternal hopes could be those of a writer for his work or a god for his people. This book is a tryptich, and though it doesn’t walk it certainly speaks. Three short stories are flanked by photographs, or vice versa. The croaking cracked stories of the three narrators truly writhe. With such voices nothing needs to move very far. And it does.
Photographs of absurdist domestic still-lives move the reader into the warm abyss of the stories. They are filthy and depraved places and one is shocked to find how comfortable she is there. Nathan Martin brings us to the grotto of human suffering and shows us what tenderness and happiness can sustain itself there.
The men and women of these stories grow into one another, physically as well as emotionally, and the trauma that enables this – carbon monoxide poisoning, shattered bones, gashes and cancer – finds its ultimate articulation in pregnancy. The six principal characters, not counting a sadistic mystery named Pong, cohabitate one another's bodies as well as their lives. Violence passes through both bodies like fumes through a house. As with the fetus, it is something they share.
Curiously enough, this fluidity is not adopted by the prose. The paragraph rules the roost. The form is masterfully executed, and one will not grow tired of the Keplerian orbits of description that spin from observation to explication to emotionally-laden "punch-line" and then move on. On the second or third read, however, the strict form hollows out the threat of the madness.
The influence of Southern Gothic literature is worth passing note, but We’re Pregnant has its lines in several ponds. Missionaries and imams make strange appearances and one is not so cozily nooked in Flannery O’Connor’s closet as one might have expected. There are immense wedges of darkness and ignorance floating throughout the book, and the thin narrative intimates what could otherwise be any history, any world. It is the primordial sweat and ooze of human exchange, mercilessly pathetic and cruel, gestating within what we can only imagine are very confused communities. These are the people we don’t even want to see on the news.
They are in touch with the corporality of relationships in a way few can be in peacetime, and the book finds its most powerful gesture not in the demonstration of compassion with madness, but in the celebration of the fetid, of the rot at the core of fertility. Were Persephone’s pomegranates Demeter’s ovarian cancer?
Press Street will host a multimedia event to celebrate the release of We’re Pregnant with a Happy Hour Salon from 6 – 9 p.m. on Feb. 28 at the Antenna Gallery in the Press Street HQ (3718 St. Claude Ave.). The event will include an exhibition of photography and outtakes from the book, a reading by Mr. Martin, and performances by local musicians Leyla McCalla and HAWN. Copies of We’re Pregnant will be on sale at a discounted price of $10. The event is free and open to the public.
Erik Vande Stouwe reviews works of art and literature for NolaVie.