We meet Laura Fjellstad first as she works and cares for her young daughter, while struggling with debilitating pain and endometriosis, an invisible chronic illness. As the novel tracks backward, the reader meets Laura's younger and somewhat healthier selves (a hopeful bride in New York, a baby queer in Paris, a figure skater in Norway), and uncovers her tireless work to gain control of her identity, her illness and the conflicting demands made by doctors, friends, lovers and family. Havelin's debut novel etches details of daily life into a gripping and darkly humorous bildungsroman about the intricacies of love and life in a fragile body.
Man Booker Prize-winning author Paul Beatty says, Most books about disease try to describe the pain; told in poetic whisper, Karen Havelin's debut novel lets pain speak for itself. It's a book that dares you be nosy, to eavesdrop and listen in to a stoic young woman whom no one noticed until she began to disappear, her body disintegrating from the inside out until there's nothing left but searing agony and almost impossiblya burning triumph.
Jarringly funny and perceptive; an intimate reckoning with the inner demons and precarity of everyday life, unpacked through the very specific lens of a woman with chronic pain.
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
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During my commute to work on the crowded subway after I’ve dropped Ella off, I’m so exhausted I actually consider asking a stranger for their seat. I look around at the shuttered faces around me, all of us swaying with the carriage as the noise ebbs and flows. Would anyone take pity on me? Not for the first time, I think to myself that a moment of desperate need is the worst possible time to have to ask for help. If I didn’t need it, it would be no problem. If I were doing it on someone else’s behalf, I would almost certainly be successful, full of confidence and righteousness. But I don’t look like I need help—I look like a regular healthy person, just crankier and less attractive. Sometimes I wonder if there’s something about my face when I’m in pain and struggling that makes people not want to help me. On those days, people seem to be less polite than usual, and I can’t count on even the smallest courtesy.
I catch my reflection in the window of the subway car. My mouth is downturned, eyes dull and frantic. I look like I’m convinced that something horrible is about to happen, or like I’m about to start yelling in a desperate and high-pitched voice. If someone misunderstood my request or simply chose to be cruel, it would crush me. I just can’t take that risk. I have to remain standing, folding in on myself and raking energy from the corners to get to work, running a private but familiar survival program in which I would sacrifice limbs to keep going.
I can’t stop evaluating every surface as a potential place to rest. Even the speckled floor looks inviting at this point. It costs so much to stay standing, my body leaking energy with every sway and turn the train makes. I can’t lean against the pole because of all the hands holding on to it. My midriff glows with nauseous, dull pain that seems to have turned up the volume the second I dropped off Ella. Can I really not have the tiny amount of space my ass would take up on some surface in this city? Just a miniature shelf is all I need. I can’t be this tired. Maybe I just can’t hack this life on my own. Is my stomach ruined again? I have to get back on some serious endometriosis meds immediately. Why didn’t I start the drugs right after Ella was born? What the fuck was I thinking, going with only hormonal birth control? Did I think I was some sort of regular person? I’m out of practice. Is this the new cyst I’m feeling? Or is there actually something new wrong with me? My whole life is just a story of things going wrong. Think only small thoughts for now. You felt alone in caring for Ella when you were with Nick, too.
Now at least I can do things the way I want. And he never was good on a day like this anyway. I would have been able to ask him to take Ella home, but it would have cost me. I would feel like his eyes were on me, keeping score. He would want to place himself in the middle of it and take control of the situation, without listening to me, without acknowledging the skill set I’ve acquired through my lifetime as a patient. It would require fighting, insisting, explaining—and still he wouldn’t remember, the next time it came up. He would blame me for being irritable, for rationing my painkillers. It would come down to some kind of political issue, to the raw fact of our bodies alone in a room together, where I was simply unable to make him understand that living in mine, the way it is, isn’t optional.