Retained placenta; umbilical cord prolapse; foetal arrhythmia; toxoplasmosis; preeclampsia; placental abruption; gestational diabetes; cytomegalovirus: I read about all of them, and learned the warning signs. Perhaps to other women, these complications remain obscure, shadowy threats during pregnancy, but to me they were hard, clear, immediate dangers. When my obstetrician told me that mine was a perfectly normal pregnancy, the very first thing I said was: “Are you sure?”
And yet I was surprised when disaster struck. The things you worry about aren’t supposed to happen – that’s what worry does. It’s a preventative. And my disaster happened quickly, without fanfare or drama. One second, I was a nice, normal, happy pregnant married woman of 32, walking across my bedroom to my desk while my husband made lunch downstairs. And then the warm fluid gushed out of me, soaking my clothing and leaving a little wet spot on the pale green carpet.
Driving across country some years ago, I pulled off Interstate 76, among the arroyos and tumbleweed at Fort Morgan, Colorado. Philip K. Dick lay buried somewhere in the cemetery there. But where? At the public library, a sweet old lady volunteer flipped the pages of a bound burial record until she found the grave’s location. I wrote it down, thanked her, and wandered around until I found a double tombstone, about a foot high, bearing the names Philip and Jane, Dick’s twin sister, dead in infancy. (Before he died in 1982, Dick purchased the plot next to hers.) Standing only a few feet above his moldering corpse gave me the willies. His books produce in me a sort of psychotic break with everyday reality, revealing a hidden life behind it, ominous and possibly sacred. On top of the low tombstone, an earlier pilgrim had placed an array of small plastic sheep. An offering! I sensed something sacred about them, so I stole one. Returning to my car, I stuck it into the heater grid on the dash. To this day, it guides my travels, a holy relic reminding me to dream of electric sheep.
P. D. Viner is a British crime writer who has published two novels and two long novellas. Recently, he completed a manuscript titled “The Funeral Director,” which is set in western New York. Viner was born and raised in South London; his prose, naturally, tends to have a British accent. “I feel like I’ve got a very good handle of American idioms,” he told me. Still, he wanted this book, and particularly its American characters, to sound as American as possible. He felt that he couldn’t be too careful.
He asked an American reader to vet his manuscript, hoping to eliminate any slip-ups—the British “windscreen” for the American “windshield,” that sort of thing. Ultimately, he decided that asking just one reader was insufficient. He ended up relying on a dozen Americans, including eight who read the entire book. One was a ghostwriter in Virginia; two were high-school teachers; some were people he met through Facebook. Each found at least one Britishism in the text that had not been identified by someone else. Viner had written “hired car” instead of “rental car,” “ring off” instead of “hang up.” (He didn’t pay his vetters, but he plans to acknowledge them in the finished book, he said.)
After growing up in rural western Massachusetts, the only child of well-educated, white-collar parents, Hodgman attended Yale. These are facts. But as Hodgman delivers what would otherwise be a sterile story, he peppers his narrative with deadpan asides, cocktails of self-deprecation and mock homespun wisdom: "Insecurely teasing a teenager is a privilege of fatherhood," he asserts, and "A mustache sends a visual message to the mating population of Earth that says, 'No thank you. I have procreated. My DNA is out in the world, and I no longer deserve physical affection.'"
For her second book, Perelman says she wanted to avoid falling into the trap of overly simplified, 20-minute express recipes. “I didn’t want a book whose goal was to rush you out of the kitchen the second you began to unwind,” she wrote earlier this year. “I didn’t want to operate from the assumption that cooking is drudgery, when for so many of us, it’s a much-needed escape. I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time, but I also knew that a recipe that takes 10 minutes longer isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker if those 10 minutes make it infinitely better.”