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What Came First

November 10, 2011

Carol Snow wrote “What To Expect When You’re Expecting a Person” as a guest post over at Bermuda Onion, and I found the piece so charming that I signed up for a chance to win her novel What Came First…and then I won it! It was just the kind of easy read I needed this week. It’s a little bit funny, and a lot about what it’s like to raise kids, and it has an easy pace, switching between three narrators in order to progress to the point where you find out how they’re related to each other and then past that, almost like untangling a knot.

My favorite of the three narrators, Laura, begins the novel by saying “the chickens are getting restless,” which certainly makes me want to read on. Second is my least favorite of the narrators, Vanessa, who begins by telling us “today is my birthday,” and then the third narrator, Wendy, confesses that “Tuesday-night scrapbooking is the highlight of my week, which speaks volumes about just how crappy my life has become.”

I read most of this novel at one sitting, and without marking much I wanted to comment on, just following the plot to its conclusion. One part I particularly enjoyed is a conversation between Laura and her sperm donor, who she’s tracked down, about the name Eleanor, especially because its conclusion reminds me of a similar conversation about names for children in the movie The Sure Thing:

“If Ian had been a girl, I was going to call him Eleanor, but now I’m not sure.”
“You don’t like it?”
“It’s—you know. Whatever makes you happy.” He mouths “Eleanor” with obvious distaste.
“What about Ian?” I ask. “The first time I told you my son’s name, I got the impression you didn’t like it.”
“I never said that.”
“Do you like it?”
He waits a beat too long and then says, “Sure.”
“You’re a terrible liar.”
He bites his lip. “It’s just a little, you know.”
“Nothing. It doesn’t matter what I think.”
“But what do you think?”
“It’s just…a lot of vowels. But as long as you like it. And Ian likes it.”
Ian wishes I’d called him something else.
“What about Jake?” I ask. “You like that?”
He sits up straighter. “Jake. Now, that’s a name.”

Between Laura’s son Ian, who she describes as “really fun to be around. Everyone likes him” and Wendy’s twins Sydney and Harrison, whose behavior gets complaints from their teachers and other parents, there’s an entire book about how much effect genes and parenting have on how a child turns out. And the nice thing about the book is that it shows how children are always in the process of turning out, even though it’s hard for parents, especially mothers, to be able to take enough steps back to have any perspective on that process.

If you’re a mother, you’ll like this book. If you’ve ever contemplated throwing pretzels at anyone’s children, you might like it. But if you have no interest in raising children, you should probably read something else.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2011 7:27 am

    This sounds like a book I could relate to. I’m so glad to see you liked it!

    • November 11, 2011 9:32 am

      I did like it–thanks for making me notice the author.

  2. November 10, 2011 9:51 am

    Congrats on the win. I’m glad that you enjoyed it.

    • November 11, 2011 9:34 am

      I think any mother would enjoy it–probably you need to wait a couple of years and experience the “terrible twos” first. (And you know what Barbara Kingsolver says about that term, don’t you? That it’s self-fulfilling. If we called them the “fat fours” that might happen more, too, according to one of her essays. I think it’s from High Tide in Tucson.)

  3. freshhell permalink
    November 10, 2011 11:38 am

    I would read it. I was having a similar nature/nurture conversation with a co-worker yesterday.

    • November 11, 2011 9:35 am

      I will ask Lemming to pass it on when she finishes with it.

      • freshhell permalink
        November 11, 2011 10:39 am

        Have you read Admission? Maggie sent it to me. I can put that one in circulation when I’m done, though it seems like exactly the kind of book you’d have already read.

  4. November 10, 2011 9:49 pm

    I’m not sure this is a book for me, but I just loved your description about what it’s like to read narrators coming together. I love untangling knots books.

    • November 11, 2011 9:36 am

      I’m not sure this is a book for anyone who is not a parent, but this author seems like a good, easy storyteller who might have something else you’d like–if not now, eventually.

  5. November 11, 2011 9:09 pm

    This does sound like a fun little read!

  6. November 13, 2011 11:28 am

    Ha. If you’re a mother, you’ll like this book. If you’ve ever contemplated throwing pretzels at anyone’s children, you might like it. But if you have no interest in raising children, you should probably read something else. This is funny. A good model for many types of recommendation.

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