How when we thought our daughter was going to be a "boy" is like my new novel.
|our 3 kids and dog when our daughter was 3|
I was thinking about our daughter and my new book. We had a very, very early ultrasound and we thought our daughter was going to be a boy. Not that it mattered to us, but, having found out, we pictured this third child to be a certain kind of child, at least initially, as they’d come with standard features built in the factory as it were. To be honest, 25 years ago, we weren’t really thinking about gender vs. sex, though we were entirely open to how the presentation and definition of either might be seen and defined by our children. But, having imagined having three sons, having imagined this kid to be “a boy,” when our daughter was born, of course we were thrilled out of our minds, but my wife, since she was expecting this “boy” and had imagined what it might be like, in addition to feeling the delight of our girl, had to, if not mourn, then acknowledge the loss of that other kid she had anticipated (or more, correctly, our perceptions of that kid's starting point—we knew our kids would discover and develop into the people that they truly were as they grew.) It was just the loss of what she had anticipated, all that love flowing toward the image of that kid in her mind. There was, of course, the same immense love flowing toward our actual kid, the one who had actually been pictured in that ultrasound, the one who was actually born. And that love continues to this day for our remarkable third child (of course, the other two are no slouches either!)
But this is about me! About my recent novel. It occurred to me as I drifted off to sleep—ok, as I listened to the Tale of Genji on headphones mounted in a sleep mask (who can get to sleep any other way)—that this “loss” of our imaginary child was a bit like the loss of what I’d hoped for my novel, Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted: The Ballad of Motl the Cowboy which was published in Spring 2021. During a pandemic. It’s done fine. I was delighted by several really great reviews and by winning the Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Fiction for it. I’ve done a bunch of readings, mostly online, at festivals across the country. So no complaints. Well, one can always complain—and I can. But I guess, because this book was so important to me, because it speaks of the Holocaust, and my family’s history in Lithuania as well as Indigenous genocide, and because I worked so hard on it (of course who doesn’t work so hard on a novel?) I’d hoped it would make a bigger splash. Admittedly, my view was distorted by the marvellous and entirely surprising success of my previous novel, Yiddish for Pirates. It is still selling better than this new novel. Curses, other Gary who sells better than me! Only a fool would be jealous of himself and his previous book. Look into the mirror, Gary: fool.
I did hope that this book might have another path, but it has the path that it does. Maybe it’ll be a slow burn and readers will discover it more gradually. Maybe it’ll have fewer readers but it’ll mean more to them. Maybe when the paperback edition comes out in March, its red boot bedecked bright yellow cover will leap into readers hands. And now that bookstores are open again (ah, how I missed them!) that’s another chance for the book to meet its potential readers. Also, it’s being translated into Romanian! I may not be big in Japan, but Romania? They’ll carry me through the streets of Bucharest!
There’s that Junot Diaz quote, “In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book.” And in some sense, you have to become the person you need to have written that book, to have that particular book out in the world. And you get to be another person, too. The one who is writing the current work-in-progress. I find I have to become that person in order to do that work, and I’m discovering who that person is through the process of writing.
So, there’s no point in mourning the book that could have been. The reception that could have been. The person that one could have been, that was. I hadn’t thought of that chimerical “son” that we thought we might have. In fact, by not having any expectations of our daughter—who she might be and how—we’ve been delighted by the continual discovery. Now that’s the way to have joy as a parent and as a writer.