July 1, 2011

5 Infertility Books for Great Summer Reads: Good Eggs

Welcome back to my Infertility Summer Reading review series! Tune in every other Friday this summer for a new review. Check out the schedule of reviews below. You can even grab your own copy of the books reviewed by clicking the book covers under the Infertility Summer Reading List to the right. Feel free to start reading ahead or wait until after the review goes up. Either way, do join along and share your thoughts in the comment section!

Infertility Summer Reading Series Featured Books
  1. Conquering Infertility by Dr. Ali Domar - (Read the review from June 3)
  2. Inconceivable by Carolyn and Sean Savage - (Read the review from June 17)
  3. Good Eggs: A Memoir by Phoebe Potts (Today's Review: July 1)
  4. Silent Sorority by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos (July 29)
  5. Navigating the Land of If by Melissa Ford (August 12)

Good Eggs: A Memoir by Phoebe Potts

Recommended to me by: Mayyim Hayyim

The Review: It seems like such an unlikely medium for an infertility story, but Good Eggs weaves the story of Phoebe Potts' life in such a unique fashion it's hard not to resist the urge to pick up a copy. I had heard excellent things about this book and when I was at a class on infertility and ritual in the Jewish tradition at Mayyim Hayyim, a progressive mikveh center in Newton, single page prints of her book were on display in a featured art exhibition. They had out copies to peruse and as I waited for the class to begin, I read the first third of the book. I finally bought my own copy and finished it this week in anticipation of today's review.

It's hard to describe this book: yes, it's an infertility story, but it's much more than that. Potts describes her life growing up, her tumultuous and at times strained relationship wit her mother, and her lifelong struggles with debilitating clinical depression. We see very tender and poignant snippets of her courtship and marriage to her husband Jeff as well as a wandering narrative about her brief year in Mexico. Throughout all of this is their quest to conceive.

Potts illustrates the painful reality of unexplained infertility. By all accounts, she and her husband are perfectly normal. Yet after timed intercourse, several failed IUIs and IVF cycles, they still don't have any luck. The uniqueness of the graphic novel format allows us to literally see her thought bubbles in the very moment of each scene. As readers, we become witness to a continous running inner monologue in a way that traditional autobiographic narrative fails to provide.

Good Eggs is a much a resource for those coping with mental illness as it is for those dealing with infertility. Potts' frank portrayal of The Voice - her monstrous, self-deprecating inner monologue - is perhaps one of the most vivid and honestly accurate depictions of what it's like to live with depression.

Potts also shares the way in which her Jewish faith has been impacted by her infertility, as both a conflict of faith as she sits during High Holiday services and listens to the story of Hannah, and as inspiration as she considers becoming a rabbi. I was left feeling like the word "exploration" was the theme of her story as she seeks to discover herself and what fulfills and sustains her.

While I try not to post spoilers, I will say this: the book does not end with a nice, neat ribbon on it, all tied together in a "another infertile couple success story" bow. Potts's journey remains unresolved. However, she leaves the door open for what the possibilities for parenthood could be. This ending really resonated with me because it's a narrative ending you don't often see - that lingering, unresolved ending that leaves you deeply investing and thinking about Phoebe and Jeff well after you finish the book.

Potts' illustrations are quirky and even whimsical at some points, with much detail crammed into each panel. I found it interesting that I most quickly identified characters by their hair, as Potts draws their hairstyles with such distinct detail. Good Eggs is rife with a rich story and characters but at times the narrative feels wandering and clumsy. While flashbacks in the storyline were generally introduced, we are suddenly snapped back to the present storyline in an abrupt and sometimes very confusing fashion.

I would have also appreciated just a smidgen larger book size. While 9x6 is a pretty standard book size, Potts' illustrations are so detailed that sometimes it's hard to spot the little hidden gems in each panel, such as witty puns (a box of tissues labeled Tish B'av, a Jewish holiday of mourning) or running gags (her cat's appearance in many panels included a running commentary of its thoughts). And with little visual footnotes and descriptions tightly packed into each frame, the size of the book made them difficult to read at times.

Quotable Moment: After multiple failed IUIs, Phoebe begins to confront the possibility that things may not work out. In a full page panel, Phoebe sobs in her husband's arms as he holds her and says, "Oh, sweetie. It's going to be OK. We're going to have a baby." Woven throughout the panel is the following:
"It's in Jeff's job description to say the things I need to hear even if they are not true when the alternative is just too hard to take."

Rating: (out of a possible 5 tasty pomegranates)
Good Eggs presents the infertility experience in a truly unique medium, giving very literal insight and emotion to very intimate moments along their journey. Despite an awkward narrative and panels almost over-drawn in their detail, Good Eggs makes the brave choice to tell an unfinished story and in the process, still leaves the reader feeling hopeful.

Food for Further Thought: Last year, Potts and I were featured together in an article for Tablet Mag, an online Jewish magazine. (Read Breeding Ground here.) We both spoke about how we channeled our infertility struggles into artistic creations: Potts with her graphic novel, me with my What IF video.

Graphic novels have been fighting their way onto the literary scene as early as the 1980s with Alan Moore's Watchmen. In fact, much controversy surrounded Watchmen when it was awarded the Hugo Award in 1988; sci-fi authors critics were up in arms that a "comic book" won perhaps one of the highest honors in the sci-fi genre. Other graphic novels like Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale, depicting his father's life as a Holocaust survivor, have gone on to win the Pulitizer Prize. Then there is Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical work, Persepolis, which went on to be made into an Oscar-nominated animated film.

Good Eggs has been nominated as Best Book for RESOLVE's Hope Awards this year. Given it's non-traditional medium, do you think it deserves recognition as best "book?" Do you think graphic novels should rank up there with the classics, modern and old? And do you think a graphic novel is an effective way to tell the infertility story?

Have you read Good Eggs? Krissi over at Stress Free Infertility has and just reviewed it this week too. What did you think?

Have you voted for Good Eggs as RESOLVE's Best Book? And have you voted for Best Blog yet?  

Sound off in the comments and have a fantastic holiday weekend for those of you celebrating the 4th in the States. Be safe folks!


Krissi said...

WOW! I think you poured much more into your review than I did only a couple days ago but you touched on some of the same points I did. I thought it was good but the back story did leave me confused...it did feel disjointed in spots. Thanks for this as always!

Chickenpig said...

It sounds like a great read. And yes, I do think that a graphic novel is a novel. It has dialogue, plot, and characters so why not? It is like asking the question 'can an animated movie win the Oscar for best picture,and should it?'. A story told in pictures is no less valid.