FLESH & BLOOD
Reflections on Infertility, Family, and
Creating a Bountiful Life
By N. West Moss
307 pp. Algonquin. $25.95.

“I’ve come to understand that there is a kind of storing up of beauty, an accumulation of memory,” Moss writes near the end of her first book of nonfiction (after a story collection, “The Subway Stops at Bryant Park”). Across 82 short chapters, it meanders through the author’s life, musing on a treasured relationship with her grandmother, her father’s death, a happy marriage and the grief of multiple miscarriages. Moss interlaces episodes from the past with a present timeline in which she is suffering from a mysterious and bloody medical condition whose eventual diagnosis necessitates a hysterectomy, followed by a complicated recovery. It is an intimate and ruminative portrait of life in an aging body, the hardships of navigating medical crises and the importance of loving care.

Throughout, Moss’s voice is conversational, punctuated with frequent ellipses and colloquialisms: “Oh well.” “Shoot.” “Jesus.” Its narration unspools to reveal the movement of her mind behind the prose, and at times Moss’s candor makes this discursive style effective, like when she laments the impending loss of “the silky, slippery nose of my cervix, who never did anything to anyone.” At other times, however, it becomes tediously self-conscious, laden with superfluous details, more stream of consciousness than story. And yet, there is often meaning and depth to be found in the miscellany of life. Especially, perhaps, in the life of a middle-aged woman, a demographic whose interior and corporeal narratives are so often dismissed by a patriarchal, youth-obsessed culture.

The memoir genre has a long and valuable tradition of chronicling such ordinary, older lives that demonstrate how to find meaning in our own. There is beauty to be found in the transcription of small wonders — in Moss’s case, a praying mantis laying her eggs, a well-made cup of broth, the warmth of a beloved pet at your feet. For many, I trust, this account will provide company and insight into the tragedies and delights of middle age. Who among us doesn’t need a reminder that “it turns out that you can be filled to overflowing with grief and still be happy”?

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