Book Bag: ‘Loved and Wanted’ by Christa Parravani; ‘Killing the Story’ by Joan Livingston

Staff Writer
Published: 12/17/2020 7:08:20 PM
Modified: 12/17/2020 7:08:09 PM

Loved and Wanted: A Memoir of Choice, Children and Womanhood by Christa Parravani (Henry Holt and Company)

 

Writer and teacher Christa Parravani already had two young children, including one just about a year old, when she discovered she was pregnant again. The confirmation came when she used a store-bought test in her bathroom; she threw the test across the room, and it bounced off the tiled wall above her bathtub and flew back at her.

So begins Parravani’s “Loved and Wanted,” her painful memoir of becoming pregnant at a time when her family can barely pay its bills and her husband leaves almost all the child care and homemaking to her. She wants to get an abortion, but she’s living in a state — West Virginia — where obtaining one is almost impossible.

“I was forty years old,” she writes. “I had a kindergartner and a one-year-old at home. I was an accidentally pregnant, progressive woman in the reddest state in America.”

Parravani wrote a previously acclaimed memoir, “Her,” about her relationship with her late twin sister, Cara. She lived in Northampton from about 2003 to 2008, taught photography at area colleges, including the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and she was enrolled for a time in a UMass graduate program in creative writing before finishing her degree at Rutgers University.

In late 2017, when she becomes pregnant, Parravani is teaching writing at West Virginia University, where her husband, the writer Anthony Swofford (the author of the memoir “Jarhead” about serving in the Marines in the Persian Gulf War), also teaches writing.

The marriage is troubled. Swofford is bored with undergraduate classes and looks for screenwriting jobs in Los Angeles, with limited success. He tells Parravani to do what she thinks best about the pregnancy: “It’s your body.” Then he lands a television script gig in L.A. and leaves for weeks at a time.

Parravani’s efforts to get an abortion in West Virginia go nowhere. The first doctor she sees tells her he can’t help her. When, on the advice of a friend, she calls another doctor’s office, the receptionist coolly says “I don’t know what you’re talking about. We don’t do things like that here.”

By the time Parravani finds a provider who will work with her — hours away, in Pennsylvania — her pregnancy is too far along to end. Not that getting an abortion wasn’t a difficult choice in the first place, she writes. “Nobody goes to a clinic or a doctor and joyfully ends a pregnancy…. They do it because they’re broke, or alone, or need to care for the children they already have, or because they can’t or don’t want to raise a baby.”

In chronicling her experience and the range of emotions she feels — anger, fear, despair — Parravani also looks at the wildly different abortion laws in states and concludes those with the most restrictive regulations have the worst health outcomes for infants and children. And as the author decides to carry her son, Keats, to term, she also recounts how environmental contamination and poor health care options in West Virginia have already harmed her two older children.

It’s hard not to read her memoir and wonder where her husband was much of this time, physically and emotionally, though Parravani largely seems to let him off the hook. “Reprehending Tony might be briefly satisfying,” she writes, “but to do so is to lose focus, to take a moment in my life when I was handed shame and doubt solely because I was a pregnant woman, and make it about my husband.”

Overall, though, “Loved and Wanted” offers what one reviewer calls “searing testimony from the front lines of American womanhood … (which) reveals a broken system that denies fundamental human rights to women who can’t afford to pay for them.”

Killing the Story by Joan Livingston (Darkstroke/Crooked Cat Books)

Once a reporter, always a reporter: In Joan Livingston’s mystery series, Isabel Long, a former writer and editor for a small newspaper in western Massachusetts, keeps getting drawn into cold cases of people who disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances.

And when she does, Isabel, who now splits time working as a private investigator and a beer slinger in a tavern in tiny Conwell, Mass., finds her old instincts as a reporter kicking in as she uncovers old secrets — sometimes provoking threats from people who want things left alone.

In “Killing the Story,” Livingston’s fourth novel, Isabel meets the son of a former editor of another small newspaper from a regional town, Dillard. Estelle Crane died some years back from head injuries suffered from what was ruled an accidental fall on ice. But her son, Emerson, has discovered a mysterious note in his mother’s papers that suggests she may have been killed because of a story she had been pursuing for her newspaper, The Observer.

“Emerson, if you find this note, something is wrong,” the note reads.

Turns out Estelle had been investigating a possible scam by Dillard police in which the department was pocketing money from traffic tickets. When Isabel begins looking into the case, she’s quickly confronted by Dillard’s hard-nosed police chief, James Hawthorne, who pulls her over in her car one day to tell her “I just thought we should have a little chat … (a)bout you coming into my town and possibly stirring up trouble.”

But Isabel isn’t one to be put off that easily, and with the support of some of the same characters from the previous books in Livingston’s series — Isabel’s boyfriend, Jack, and her 93-year-old mother, Maria — she digs deeper into the case, uncovering Chief Hawthorne’s troubling history with the late Estelle and her newspaper.

Livingston, who today edits the Greenfield Recorder and lives in Shelburne Falls, formerly lived in Worthington, working for many years as a Hilltown reporter and editor for the Gazette. As in her previous mysteries, she brings a keen sense of small-town life, an ear for dialogue, and a fast-moving plot to “Killing the Story,” making the new book a strong addition to her series.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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