Clad in millennial pink, this book is highly deceptive. I expected stupid decisions and self deprecation but instead I was met with a beautiful story full of grief, friendship, and love.
After Eva spends a night with Pat he tells her “you can’t live your life saying you’ll get around to doing something you know will make you happy. You just have to do it;” this sparks something in Eva. Eva couldn’t have known how impactful those words were going to be because when Pat dies suddenly and Eva is pregnant with his child. She must think about those words and what they really mean to her.
I was a little hesitant going into this novel because books about maternalism do absolutely nothing for me; if anything I tend to resent them. But I was pleasantly and refreshingly surprised to have met my maternal match in Small Joys Of Real Life. This book wasn’t so much about motherhood but rather pregnancy, being pregnant, and the way it impacts your life when it was the last thing you’d expect to happen.
Small Joys Of Real Life was unexpectedly sad. It deals with suicide and the feelings that come with being left behind by someone you cared about or saw a semblance of a future with. I loved the way Richards used pregnancy as a vessel to solidify the notion that people never fully leave this world. People exist in the ones we leave behind and in Eva’s case this is literally as she is growing a baby inside of her. The internal battles—and victories—Eva goes through when it comes to the consideration of Pat’s role in the pregnancy despite him being gone was a really interesting perspective I haven’t seen before. In the past I have found (and thought) that decisions to do with carrying on with a pregnancy are very black and white; you either want a baby or you don’t. But Small Joys considers the idea of both simultaneously in a way. Despite continuing with the pregnancy Eva felt really unsure to me the whole time. I was left with the sentiment of giving it a try and I really don’t think that is a bad position to have as long as it comes from a place of love.
Eva as a main character felt quite unenthusiastic to me and under the circumstances I can completely understand why. I think it was an interesting choice because when it comes to these millennial literary novels our main character is usually very passionate about something. Whether their passion is doing nothing productive or perhaps having sex to fill a void instead of seeing a therapist it is almost always there. But for me Eva felt like she was at a crossroads. This is a feeling that is more relatable than the others because everyone knows how it feels to be at an impasse in life. I think this book is intentionally flat to convey this feeling in combination with the grief that comes with an association to death. To be left with never knowing what could have been after you feel that special spark? The loss is quite unimaginable. It’s like losing something you never had and as I write these words my heart hurts to think about it.
Sexuality and pregnancy were interwoven in such a normal way. These two things can often be separated and motherhood is quickly defined as a non-sexual sphere. However, one does not exist without the other so why does sexuality need to cease when pregnancy begins? The casualty and almost simply primal infusion of sex in this novel was familiar and foreign at the same time. I understand the mechanics of sex and wanting it (clearly it’s been a while if I’m referring to it as mechanics) but reading it in the sphere of pregnancy was enlightening. Things were so unchanged but also very different. The sexualisation of pregnancy itself was refreshing because it didn’t feel like a fetishisation but appreciation. In connection to this, I really liked the normalcy of being pregnant and how it wasn’t seen as a cause for a complete life shift but rather it was something happening. The pregnancy itself wasn’t a limitation for Eva but rather an added excuse, if you will, as to why she didn’t want to go to things.
Friendship is one of the main centrepieces of Small Joys and while everything was reconciled by the end I found myself strongly disliking Eva’s best friend Sarah. I thought she was absolutely awful and was at a loss to imagine why Eva would put up with her as a friend. But as I said, this is a snapshot of a life (albeit fictional) but if someone took a snapshot of our lives and friendships would they stand up to the perfection test? Probably not. I think the realistic depiction of less than perfect friends is one to be admired because no one is perfect so why do we expect our friends to be? I think the dichotomy between Sarah and Eva’s life is quite funny to me because the contrast is so sudden and new. To us as readers they seem unmatched in this moment but the author trusts us to recognize that at one point in the not so distant past they were perfectly attuned to one another. Elements of this friendship show up in Sarah’s acceptance of the pregnancy and her pride in taking on a role in it and Eva’s acceptance of Sarah’s less than optimal behaviour. Friendships are extremely important relationships and they rarely see the mainstage when it comes to stories about parentage and pregnancy so I enjoyed how integral friendship was to Eva and to the foundation of this story.
Small Joys Of Real Life is a book about pregnancy but also a lot more than that. It is about friendship, grief, sexuality, healing, acceptance and many feelings in between. It is a novel that builds greatly and leaves you wanting more—in the best kind of way. It’s worth reading because it makes mundanity beautiful and shows us that there are small joys everywhere.
Small Joys Of Real Life
By Allee Richards
300 pages. 2021.
Out now and available in Australia.