Rivka Galchen has won awards and acclaim for her novel and short-story collections as well as for witty, wordy and worldly magazine pieces. Here she examines – in pithy asides as much as anything – the world of the mother who writes; who wishes to write and would sometimes rather not write but for the nag of it at her soul.
Here in what Lydia Davis probably calls short-stories, in newly made fables, in prose poems, in personal essays and once or twice in something resembling little more than a Tweet Galchen gathers all that is left of herself in the new role as mother and explores the drain – and stimulation/inspiration/influence – of what it takes and what she now makes as a parent.
It’s a love-letter to literature and a tone-poem to the aims and ambitions of a writer with working hours reduced, with a new mouth to feed, a new grind to understand.
Some of the essays and epigrams – and even epithets – resonate and some don’t seem as strong on their own, but it’s also page-turningly good writing, so the key to the enjoyment is in never wanting to put the book down – until done; in knowing that we’re seeing all sides of this version of the person, the writer-as-mother as character within her own work.
I loved Little Labors. I identified – as a parent working in stolen moments, aiming to still (and always) read and hoping, I guess, to be read – with the aims and ambitions and tone of much of the work here. But I was also dazzled, often, by her deft skill. She has not only a way with a word but a way of using that to tap into the world, to try to understand it a little better; a gift then to the readers, allowing us all to see something else, to understand it a little better too.