Life after birth is no lullaby in no-holds-barred novel

Stuck in a cloud of postpartum depression in upstate New York, a full year after her caesarean section, Ari — the Jewish protagonist in Elisa Albert’s new novel “After Birth” — develops a fascination with the woman subletting her neighbor’s house. Mina Morris, the bass player from a late-’80s Oregon punk girl band called the Misogynists, is now an acclaimed poet with a visiting fellowship at the local university.

When sightings of Mina around town reveal that she is on the brink of giving birth, Ari reflects on her own pregnancy and first months with her son. She hasn’t overcome the trauma of her surgery, or that of her curtailed relationship with her “Bitch from hell” mother, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who survived the camps as a young comfort woman to the Nazi guards and later underwent experimental fertility treatments that bloomed into terminal cancer in the baby they saved — Ari’s mother.

Now married to a professor 15 years her senior and struggling with the isolation of rearing a child without maternal guidance, Ari turns to memories of her mother to punish herself and slump further into untreated depression and self-loathing.

But when Mina seems to be even more alone in the world with her newborn that winter, Ari finds a new sense of purpose. As the two women nest in the sublet home, nursing and caring for their children together, Ari reconsiders every significant female relationship she’s ever had, questioning the particular brand of feminism her mentors gave her and embracing her new, self-appointed role as “the town wet nurse.”

But is this utopia of sisterly love that Ari and Mina have established sustainable? Tensions rise as both women adapt to motherhood and learn to cope with the harsh family histories they each carry, ultimately finding comfort in the friends they never knew they had.

Abrasively honest and refreshingly uncouth, Albert’s seething new novel is an unapologetic rage of womanhood, childbirth, feminism and family.

This is Albert’s second novel. The Los Angeles-based author won Moment magazine’s emerging writer award for her first book, “How This Night is Different,” a 2006 short story collection.

Book review provided by the Jewish Book Council,

“After Birth,” by Elisa Albert (208 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)