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Teresa Strasser
Exploiting My Baby: A Memoir of Pregnancy and Childbirth
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

New American Library / Penguin Putnam
USA Trade Paperback, First Edition
ISBN 978-0-451-23207-6
Publication Date: 01-04-2011
282 pages, $15
Date Reviewed: 01-28-2011

Index:  Non-Fiction

Reading is the great equalizer, and books are the most level of playing fields. Strip off the covers, tear away the blurbs, and you're staring at black letters on a white page. If the writing itself does not grab you, if the story does not compel you to keep reading, then that book is not going to get read. Conversely, the right words will keep the pages turning and immerse you in a writer's vision — no matter what that vision may be.

Teresa Strasser manages to write so well that her book 'Exploiting My Baby: A Memoir of Pregnancy and Childbirth' (New American Library / Penguin Putnam ; January 4, 2011 ; $15) got read in just about a day. Strasser's voice is smart and entertaining and her vision is refreshingly down-to-earth. Even if you're long past the stage in her life that she describes — settling down for your first kid — Strasser's story is funny, involving and informative. My kids are young adults, in and just out of college. But I found Strasser's book a refreshing change of pace from my usual oeuvre. Mostly, I found it pretty damn funny.

I suppose it really helps that though Strasser is a celebrity of sorts, she's pretty low on the totem pole. The net result of this is that because she's not rich and famous, she has to struggle pretty much as hard as any other middle-class American trying to make a go of having kids and a job and a house. This might not have been the case, had she got the gig on The View. But though she clicked with the other gals on the set, they thought she was too old, and being still single, too unlikely to have a kid while on the show. She ends up working in what she calls "deep cable," and buying a house in a dodgy neighborhood in LA.

Cut to Teresa married and deciding that she does want to have a child. First she has to conceive one, and while one might be tempted to say it was more difficult than she anticipated, that was not the case. But she takes us to the core of her somewhat neurotic, worry-o-vision, and as readers, you'll be glad she did. She researches fertility treatment options and talks frankly about pornography and constant pro-creational (as opposed to recreational) sex. She's in such a frenzy of worry that she doesn't even realize her own success.

What follows is a raw, often unsettling and always entertaining look at pregnancy and childbirth. Strasser flaunts her ability to worry about anything, her many documented imperfections (bad relationship with mother, edgy lifestyle, inability to suffer fools gladly) and brings it all down to some seriously funny prose. There's enough celebrity-envy snark in this book to please those who like celebrities and especially those who find the whole scene foolish and vapid. I'm in the latter camp, and I found her screeds about Nancy O'Dell quite entertaining.

As a memoir with a purpose, to talk about pregnancy and childbirth, Strasser's book achieves the perfect level of "too much information." She tells you about lots of things that you might not want to hear about; stretch marks, breast-feeding classes, miscarriages, C-sections — with just the right amount of graphic unpleasantness so that we feel her raw honesty, and enjoy the raunchy humor, but generally she manages to stop short of making her readers physically ill. And she's endlessly anti-sentimental, which proves to be quite endearing.

As a parent whose baby years are buried in the distant past, I found a lot of her updates on the process of becoming a parent pretty damn interesting. Things have a come a ways since I brought my kids home from the hospital. Every pitfall along the path to parenthood gets a nod, from naming your child to picking out a car seat. Strasser's the sort of writer who can bring enough attitude to the proceedings to make even the more mundane aspects of impending parenthood seem fresh and funny.

What sets this book apart from what is apparently a cottage industry of celebrity pregnancy memoirs is what is most important to any book — good prose. Strasser has a very dark vision, but she's bristling with neurotic energy. She can whip a sentence into shape, and make it tell the brutal truth in a way that will make her readers laugh. She has plenty of shame, and she's not afraid to write about it. Sure, this is a book about getting knocked up and having a kid, written from the mother's perspective. But it's also a frank look at the way we live. Either way, it's fun to read but makes you think. Mostly, in my case, that I should read outside my own blinkered taste more often.

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