BIRTH | Petrina Crockford
⇒This is a fascinating story. I’ve categorized the piece as “experimental” based on its form (like Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl,” this piece is one long sentence–there’s semicolons aplenty), and, perhaps more importantly, because of its manipulation of time. “Experimental,” of course, is a very slippery term: what’s experimental for one person may be fairly commonplace or even passe to another person. Like many readers, I think, I am identifying this piece as experimental because of its atypical attributes. The fact that other writers have already experimented with this writer’s syntactical and temporal decisions makes the story no less “experimental” in my estimation: it’s still “new” enough in my opinion (experimentation and newness being strangely synonymous in many readers’ minds), and it recasts the time-honored birth narrative in a very unusual, intriguing fashion. All of which is to say, this story is different, but it works. And it works extremely well.
(By the way, my apologies for bringing up the subject of “experimental” literature in the first place. Some controversies will never be resolved, and I’d save myself a lot of trouble not to even bring up the What Is Experimental? refrain at all. Probably, I shouldn’t have even made Experimental a story category on the site.)
Okay, now that I’ve said all that, let me get to the story at hand. Petrina Crockford’s “Birth” is beautiful: it’s language is at once organic and precise, its images and other sensory details sweaty and delicate and painful and gentle at varying times. The long-sentence form seems very appropriate considering the subject matter of the story–a labor, culminating in a birth–which is, like the piece’s syntax, driven relentlessly onward and onward until, almost out of breath, we finally reach a full stop. And the pacing of the piece is absolutely spot on: reading the story (and rereading it), I felt the story take on a steady rhythm. Both in the hospital room where she gives birth and the various locations in her mid-story flashback, we get an underlying thump-thump rhythm like the baby’s heartbeat (or the mother’s contractions). This is a very musical story: its repeated words, its sibilance and assonance, its pacing and rhythm all add up to a very intense sonic experience.
I could go on, talking about the temporal “loop” around which we spin in this piece (the narrative yo-yos from the present to the past to the present again), and I could certainly address the smooth but substantial POV shift we experience at the end, but I’m tired of typing, so I’ll shut up.
In conclusion, this is a really amazing story. I don’t have any first-hand experience with childbirth, but this piece seems to me (in my completely uninformed opinion) to be an incredibly intense and physically authentic representation of this experience.