- Alienation of Domesticity
Parenthood has shrunk your world to so small a size as to encompass only your small house and yard, which are in constant need of upkeep and repair. Trips to the grocery store and walks around the block provide a temporary means of escape. There is also the dial-up Internet connection that offers a distorted glimpse of life outside your home in the form of macabre tabloid news reports of murdered spouses and missing children. Understandably, you feel isolated from the rest of the world. What is more distressing, however, is that you feel alienated from the two others with whom you share this isolation, from your two-year old daughter whose unreadable moods and irrational demands wear on your every nerve, from the wife whose ever-expanding stomach serves as a continual reminder that the burden that weighs on you both is about to increase twofold.
Such are the worries of Abbott, the central figure of Chris Bachelder's funny, remarkable novel. The months leading up to the birth of Abbott and his wife's second child form the books three sections, "June," "July," and "August." A chapter for each day of the month, ranging in length from four pages to just a few lines, contains an episode in Abbott's domestic life. The best of these are masterfully crafted vignettes capable of standing on their own, and the novel as a whole develops as these episodes pile one on top of the other. Time marches irreversibly on, day by day, chapter by chapter, leading towards the birth [End Page 18] that looms at the end of August.
Bachelder fills these chapters with minutiae—family dinners, household chores, small squabbles between husband and wife—that, in his rendering, achieve epic stature. The focus is not the event itself, but rather Abbott's reaction to it. Abbott inflates his routine with added meaning as a response to his discomfort, his feeling of being not quite at ease in his situation. How Abbott manages his discomfort is a main source of the novel's humor, as well as a key point of tension.
Abbott's overthinking makes it impossible for him to truly exist in the present moment; often, he misses what is right in front of him. In a chapter titled "Abbott and the Jacobite Revolts," he hears his daughter singing what he takes for a mistaken attempt at "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean." This sets him on an Internet search for the song's origins.
Who taught his daughter this Scottish folk song about Charles Edward Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charlie"), who in 1745, after two decades of exile in Italy, returned to his homeland to regain the English throne for his family, only to be routed by the Redcoats and forced to escape the country disguised as a servant girl?
This is typical of Abbott—exhaustive attention spent on the smallest of details, all for something irrelevant. In the scene, his daughter sings the words "my body, my body," repeatedly, while Abbott tries to correct her: "'It does sound like that, honey, but it's Bonnie.'" That night in bed, his wife complains of a song from one of their daughter's CDs, mockingly singing the lyrics: "My body my body / My body can do lots of things / Look at me don't you see I can move so easily / My body my body." In following his obscure train of thought, Abbott is blind to the simple reality of his daughter's physical being. The very banality of the song's lyric serve as a rebuke: what could be more obvious than the body?
Another chapter shows how frustrating Abbott's obsessiveness can be, particularly for his wife. In "Abbott and the Case of the Mysterious Thing in the Driveway," Abbott sees his wife move something from the driveway to the grass. The vague answer she gives to his question isn't enough to satisfy Abbott. "Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of Abbott knows that he is not going to let this...