I read this one in the delivery room, sitting couch-side while M. waited for the contractions to pick up. I’d promised myself I’d finish the book by the time her water broke (“Come hell or broken water!” I said with raised fist), which pleased M. just fine since it distracted me from a new comedy routine I’d been rehearsing entitled, “Ways to Amuse Your Wife When She’s In Labor.” (It mostly consisted of my making less-than-soothing ocean noises).
I was within sight of the end when the midwife stepped into the room, saw me reclined and enjoying a book, and—quite surprisingly—refrained from bestowing me with the tongue-lashing I surely deserved.
“Great book,” she said. “My husband’s listed in the acknowledgments.”
He really is, Friend. I checked. Turns out he was Butler’s former teacher.
Nick Butler, as you might guess, is a bit of a hometown hero around here, as he should be. His book recounts the interwoven story lines of four friends, all Wisconsinites, whose fame, dreams, and normalcy all plays a role in helping the book reach its crescendo. Equally exciting to we Eau Clairians, the book’s set right here in town, allowing us a unique familiarity not only with the place, but the kind of people (i.e. us) who inhabit such a place.
Butler gets so many observations right (“Winter in Wisconsin is the ideal time to avoid someone because our garments grow ever larger…”) that it’s hard not to see ourselves reflected in every line. Rather, perhaps we recognize ourselves all too well. Simply put, we needn’t dig too deep to find things that connect us to the story, and in the case of my own delivery room reading, the connections were almost uncanny.
As M.’s contractions began to quicken, I read the line, “When E. was born, I ruptured my uterus”—gasping at what I hoped wouldn’t turn out to be some kind of bibliomancy-induced prophecy. Not only had the book given us the delivery room scene, but the character's name was the same as our forthcoming child's.
“What?” M. asked from her place on the bed.
“Trust me,” I said, “you don’t want to know.”
Long story short, no uteri were ruptured in the making of our child. All went smoothly enough.
And as I held her for the first time a few minutes after her birth, lifting her to the hospital window so she could see the lake and the trees, I wondered which of the characters she might one day portray.
We’re only on page one of her life, thank God, and I have no intention of rushing this story to its end.
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B.J. Hollars is a writer and a teacher.