An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination
by Elizabeth McCracken

Little Brown, 2008. ISBN 978-0-316-02767-0.
Reviewed by Janet Caplan
Posted on 11/08/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir

This is the story of a very private and personal loss: the loss of Elizabeth McCracken's baby, stillborn, in the ninth month of what had been a fairly normal pregnancy. As an author, McCracken recognizes the healing powers of the written word and the need to put all of this down on paper. She has done a remarkable job. This is a poignant memoir told, not just with obvious sadness, but with a soft, healing humor as well.

McCracken was in her mid-thirties, and a self-professed spinster, "a woman no one imagined marrying," when she met the writer Edward Carey. Life changed; they fell in love, moved in together, travelled and lived in various locations, pursuing jobs and fellowships. After a few years, they married. They were living in France, working on their respective books, when Elizabeth discovered that she was pregnant. All seemed fine until the end of the pregnancy when things suddenly went terribly wrong and Elizabeth had to go through the agony of delivering her stillborn son. For most of us, the pain and sadness described is unfathomable. McCracken tells us that after the baby they'd been calling Pudding dies, "what was killing was how nothing had changed. We'd been waiting to be transformed, and now here we were, back in our old life."

It is difficult not to shed tears as this story unfolds. Joy and hope are such a huge part of any pregnancy; we see only the future. There is no emotional roadmap with which we come equipped to deal with such loss. Elizabeth shares the ways that she and her husband have come through with the love and support of their families and friends. "To know that other people were sad made Pudding more real," she writes. The story reminded me of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. Both memoirs describe such a deep personal loss and to me, the absolute need to write the story. This memoir has the quality of a journal—it is just so personal.

McCracken and her husband are now the parents of a second child, Gus, born one year and five days after Pudding. Gus, as McCracken points out, is not a "miracle baby" as some might say about "stories like ours," but "a nice everyday baby." Theirs is now a "happy life, and someone is missing."

Elizabeth McCracken is the author of The Giant's House, which was nominated for the National Book Award; Niagara Falls All Over Again, winner of the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award; and Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry, a collection of stories. Visit her website.

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