BOOK REVIEW / PARADISE, PIECE BY PIECE by Molly Peacock

peacock book

by Natalie Axton

When you were a little girl and you imagined your grown up life, did you picture yourself as a mother? For most women the idea of having children is a matter of course, one of the developmental stages of life. But there are many women who have no maternal urge. Choosing to remain child-free of course makes them no less feminine and no less caring. Still, their stories are fewer and carry a whiff of taboo.

For writer Molly Peacock the decision not to have children arrived when she was five years old.

Paradise, Piece by Piece, Peacock’s 1998 memoir, tells the story of her decision to remain childless. To the young Peacock, children seemed to have ruined her family member’s lives. Peacock’s father, an alcoholic, terrorized the family with now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t love and affection. Eventually Peacock’s mother retreated into workaholism, leaving the young Molly Peacock to provide all domestic duties for the family.

Remaining childless is a decision the writer makes many times over the course of her life. Breaking free of her dysfunctional upbringing and finding her way – to college, romantic relationships, work, and art – arcs the story, but Paradise, Piece by Piece is not a confessional tale of victimhood. It’s a survival story, for sure, but Peacock has reserves of self-awareness and artistry to draw on. When she loses herself in a romantic relationship with a choreographer the author recognizes what she has done immediately. When she becomes a teacher she makes clear it is not children she is rejecting by refusing motherhood.

Molly Peacock is a prose writer and a poet. She has served as the President of the Poetry Society of America and was instrumental in creating the Poetry in Motion series that adorns New York City subways and buses. Her most recent chapbook, A Turn Around the Mansion Grounds: Poems in Conversation and a Conversation, is a collaborative project and was published by Slapering Hol Press in 2014. Her most recent prose work is Alphabetique, 26 Characteristic Fictions.

Choosing not to have children is a position Peacock herself describes as ‘radical.’ (Imagine if all the women of the world decided to forego reproduction.) It’s a decision Peacock admits defined her. (Interestingly, Peacock’s closest female friends, whom she met in college in the 1960s, all remain child-free as well.) At a time when having-it-all perfectionism has edged out choice in women’s lives it’s important to remember that many women want to live without becoming mothers. Similarly, the choice between being a caregiver and having an independent life is a false one.

Buy the book here.

Learn about Molly Peacock here.

Natalie Axton is the editorial director of Critical Read, a new platform for original writing on the fine and performing arts.

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