An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover, 192 pages, 2008

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: I was drawn in by a line in the blurb: ‘This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending.’ I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but that’s certainly a promise to a reader that you won’t stop turning the pages.

Synopsis: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination is a memoir of the author’s experiences after giving birth to a stillborn baby while living in France, and the subsequent birth of her second child. McCracken goes through both her physical experiences and the emotional ones trying to reconcile herself to the pregnancy and her self-concept as a mother.

Why you should read this book: You would expect this to be ridiculously sentimental and maudlin, but it is sensitive, calm, and heart-felt without being dramatic or sappy. Thank goodness, because this obviously isn’t the easiest subject to read about, even if it’s something you’ve never experienced. While we would all express sympathy, McCracken makes it clear that we might not understand as much as we think – not only has McCracken lost her baby, for example, but she feels as though the entire nine months of her pregnancy are lost: her stories about being pregnant, her joy, her anticipation. While there is of course a lot of sadness in the book, it’s also about reclaiming the joy she experienced anticipating her child, acknowledging that happiness can exist within sorrow. This was one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long time.

Why you should avoid this book: If a stillborn baby is something you’ve experienced yourself you may find it hard to relieve a similar experience, even if you think it might be healing. If it’s something someone you know experienced, you may feel odd foisting a book on her, afraid of timing…but hopefully An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination is a book that women with similar experiences will come across to find some comfort and another person who truly understands their loss. Oh, and regardless of your experiences, if you’ve been hit with any sort of loss in your life, don’t read this in public, because you will cry during reading.

Opening paragraph:

Once upon a time, before I knew anything about the subject, a woman told me that I should write a book about the lighter side of losing a child.
(This is not that book.)

Fabulous quotes:

Every day of my second pregnancy, I thought of Pudding, of course. But I tried not to think of the exact circumstances of his death. At first I was worried I’d stay in bed weeping, and then I thought: If I remember everything, I’m done for. If I remember, I will walk to the nearest hospital and ask for a nice bed in the psychiatric wing, I promise to be quiet, I promise I will not ask for narcotics, just keep me, nurse, for a few months. In May you can transfer me please to maternity. I am not crazy, but I am being careful: I am not crazy, but if I’m not careful I will take a wrong step and end up in the forest.

I don’t know what to say, people wrote, or, Words fail.
What amazed me about all the notes I got – mostly through e-mail, because who knew how to find me? – was how people did know what to say, how words didn’t fail. Even the words words fail comforted me. Before Pudding died, I’d thought condolence notes were simply small bits of old-fashioned etiquette, important but universally acknowledged as inadequate gestures. Now they felt like oxygen, and only now do I fully understand why: to know that other people were sad made Pudding more real.

Also recommended: Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood by Naomi Wolf; Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.

Also by this author: Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry?; The Giant’s House; Niagara Falls All Over Again.

Fun tidbit: McCracken has been honored as one of Granta‘s 20 Best American Writers Under 40.

Would I read more by this author? I would definitely go back and read McCracken’s older books, as well as any future writings.

&#169 Lisa Yanaky 2003-2008

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