A High-Risk Memoir
Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir
By Aileen Weintraub
(University of Nebraska Press)
Can a high-risk pregnancy, a marriage on the rocks, financial problems, a falling-down house in the middle of stalled renovations and lingering grief for a beloved dead father add up to a riotously funny read? The answer is yes, at least when the author is the gifted humorist Aileen Weintraub. Knocked Down chronicles her months of bed rest awaiting the birth of her first child in week-by-week chapters with tongue-in-cheek titles like “Bras on Fire” and “Blame It on the Cossacks.”
Weintraub, an award-winning writer and journalist, is also a commitment-phobic Brooklyn girl notorious in her family for quitting her Brownies troop and Hebrew school. At 18 weeks pregnant, her doctor instructs her to stay on bed rest for five months if she wants to keep her baby. But can she do it? And what if that bed is located in a run-down farmhouse in the upstate New York countryside beloved to her new husband, but alien to Weintraub? And what if that new husband, struggling with his own problems—a failing business and failing home repairs—is a quiet, self-possessed non-Jew entirely different from Weintraub’s loud and loving Brooklyn family?
Through the weeks and months, as Weintraub waits, and prays, to become a mother, she repeatedly asks her beloved dead father for advice. Sometimes she feels him answer: “This is not Brownies. You don’t get to quit on my grandchild.”
In the end, it’s her mother who teaches Weintraub about patience, love and motherhood. Whenever Weintraub is at her lowest during those long five months, her mother arrives on the bus from Brooklyn with a suitcase full of meat, bleach for the laundry and her own potato peeler. If this were fiction, Weintraub’s mother might read like a caricature. But this is truth, and as Weintraub’s mother cleans and cooks, she shares secrets from her own marriage, detailing what it means to stick it out through hard times and be a mother.
I won’t spoil this book by revealing too much of the ending but suffice it to say that a lot of Brooklyn Jews bearing food (“any kind of fish you can put on a bagel”) arrive in the countryside for a celebration that I won’t mention, and their cars get stuck in the mud. To find out more, you’ll have to read—and laugh and learn—for yourself.
Elizabeth Edelglass is a fiction writer, poet, and book reviewer living in Connecticut.