Thursday, May 16, 2013

The man (or woman) who isn’t there

It’s never too early in life to treat your children like mushrooms. Or to give them the suspicion that you live in a world only tangentially connected with theirs.

That, apparently, is the operating theory behind Cory Silverberg’s picture book What Makes a Baby (Seven Stories Press, $16.95), reviewed with implausible enthusiasm by Noah Berlatsky in The Atlantic. According to Berlatsky:

Silverberg’s goals here are very deliberate and (in the reader’s guide) carefully spelled out. He wants to include all children, regardless of whether they have a mommy and daddy who had sex, or adopted them, or whether they have two mommies, or two daddies, or (as Silverberg mentioned in the guide) a trans daddy who gave birth to them, or any of a myriad of other possibilities. The book, then, tries not to impose one truth, but rather to open up possibilities and conversations.

Null hypothesis: Silverberg is being (somewhat) honest — he wants to make his book accessible to as many children as possible, including those raised by same-sex couples and transsexuals. Hey — more kids, more royalties; not every author of children’s books is as wildly successful as was Dr. Seuss.

However, as Berlatsky tells it, Silverberg is so determinedly inclusive in his treatment of sex that “the book doesn’t even mention the word ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy’.” Sperm and egg meet in a uterus that doesn’t apparently belong to anyone, through some unspecified means (here’s looking at you, IVF babies!); what connection they have to the colorful blobs, drawn by Fiona Smyth, that represent people is never quite nailed down. You might as well say nothing as be so thoroughly ambiguous.