Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Pharmacist's Mate by Amy Fusselman

I have read The Pharmacist’s Mate by Amy Fusselman from cover-to-cover three nights running. I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got to the bottom of it.

The Pharmacist’s Mate is a memoir of Fusselman’s experiences trying to get pregnant after the death of her father. It has a loose narrative structure, but is more “point-in-time” than linear. It ranges from matter-of-fact observations about the colour of semen which has been “washed” for insemination (pink), to musings about the way in which deaf people might interpret guitar-playing as a visual activity.

Fusselman is what other writers might consider achingly honest. She records her thoughts without fear or favour – an observation that she thinks “My Dad is Dead” would be a good name for a boy child is delivered in the same voice as her description of her mother’s visions of “something” in the room with them.

Fusselman’s writing is blog-like and conversational. She records her thoughts in a series of staccato paragraphs which are interspersed with entries from her father’s diaries as a Pharmacist-Purser’s Mate on a merchant marine vessel during World War II.

She doesn’t like the word “husband” (“it sounds like we had a party and ate cake and said words”). She is intrigued by the type of porn her husband watches at the IVF clinic (“Valentino’s Asian Invasion”). She writes in a detached way about her inability to become pregnant.

There is something about the tone of this novel which gives it a kind of sleeper effect. In some ways, the tone of writing is similar to Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho: shattering events are given the same treatment as everyday occurrences.

If I were the kind of smash-grab spin writer who might prepare a blurb on this book for Oprah, I’d observe that it “has something for everyone” – which it does in some ways. But it’s an unsettling read despite its tone, and although it goes into some detail about Fusselman’s almost accidental attendance at an AC/DC concert, AC/DC fans would find it a thin read if this was their focus.

It’s possible I may be able to tie this book down after a few more reads, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it. In the meantime I’ll be recommending it to friends, and I suspect lending it to several people.

Anyone else who is interested can get it at a bargain-basement price from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency


Ariel said...

Sounds utterly intriguing ... and I love the review.

(The McSweeneys link isn't working though.)

redcap said...

Yes, gw - a dandy review of a very unusual-sounding book. Who knew it went pink after a bath? And I've always wondered (well, OK, I've wondered once or twice) exactly what sort of porn they would put in an IVF clinic or sperm donor place. Do you think they cater to every taste and have little labels - straight sex, girl on girl, whips and chains, bukkake, that sort of thing?

PS Oprah is pure evil and I love that Jonathan Franzen told her she could shove her book club where the sun don't shine.

gigglewick said...


It is that. Unsettling.


Not really. I overused the word "tone". In a very profound way.