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  • Pregnancy denied, pregnancy accepted
  • Farisa Khalid
H. C. Gildfind. Born Sleeping. Miami University Press, 2021. $20.81 pp. ISBN: 9781881163695

One of the most striking features of H. C. Gildfind's Born Sleeping is that it is written through second-person narration, a relatively unconventional narrative approach. One [End Page 299] comes across it, occasionally, in works like R. P. Warren's All the King's Men, William Styron's Lie Down in Darkness, Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's short story "That Thing around Your Neck." Readers—I include myself—are so accustomed to the third-person omniscient or first-person narrator that when suddenly confronted with the presence of that "you" on the page, they might find themselves disarmed by its intimacy. I was.

H. C. Gildfind is an Australian writer and academic. Born Sleeping is her second published work, following her collection of short stories, The Worry Front, published in 2018, which was also reviewed in this journal in June 2019. Born Sleeping has some of the gothic elements of the stories in The Worry Front. Gildfind's protagonists are unmoored, paranoid, and at times, unlikeable young people sailing into the early part of middle age. The Worry Front is a more stylistically complex work than Born Sleeping. A novella, this work has a more hermetic focus.

Born Sleeping is the story of a woman coping with the family trauma of her sister-in-law's stillbirth. In the midst of this tragedy, the narrator struggles with her own anxieties regarding marriage and fertility. She is also a woman frustrated by the expectations of bourgeois gender roles and femininity in the twenty-first century. As the story of a woman's breakdown and her eventual emergence from that breakdown, Born Sleeping is a work conducive to the kind of intimacy that second-person narration brings. Gildfind uses the "you" address throughout to emphasize that the protagonist experiences as a sense of existence dictated from the outside, an effective narrative mode as she attempts to deal with the realities of inhabiting various roles: wife, dutiful in-law, sister, friend, and woman.

Born Sleeping is a moving, impressionistic, and probing journey of grief and self-reflection. It is about a woman's struggle to come to terms with the complex relationships within her family, her identity and womanhood, her own body, and the nature of embodiment in what often seems like a digitally heightened, image-obsessed twenty-first century.

The narrator of the story, a writer, recounts to the reader how she learned the news that her pregnant sister-in-law, Mel, experienced a stillbirth. Mel is married to Stefan, the brother of Ivan, the narrator's husband. One of the interesting aspects of marriage highlighted by Gildfind in the story is the lingering sense of insecurity that sometimes persists in a relationship when a spouse's family is particularly clannish. The narrator feels like the odd woman out in this attractive, seemingly perfect household of do-gooders. The story has a confessional, voyeuristic feel, as if we were reading journal entries.

The narrator recounts, over various recollections, her relationship with Mel. On the surface, it is pleasant enough, but secretly, she can barely conceal her loathing, jealousy, and resentment. Mel is more attractive, more charismatic, more popular, and loved by everyone, even, worst of all, on social media, where a photo of Mel's pregnant belly garners over five hundred likes and ninety-six comments (9). The narrator conveys the insecurity and anger she feels at being outmatched by someone who revels in the attention she receives: "Mel was feeling powerful. … She was the bearer of the first grandchild. She knew the beauty and potency of her young, pregnant body" (9).

One is reminded of the atavistic and primal feelings that women have felt, since time immemorial, of the expectations and burdens of fertility and motherhood.

As a novel about pregnancy, Born Sleeping follows at the heels of other memorable stories that explore how women come to terms with pregnancy and their bodies, works such as Yōko Ogawa's "Pregnancy Diary" from [End Page 300] The Diving Pool: Three Novellas (2008...