Boulder is the lesbian parenting novel you didn’t know you needed. But oh, you do. Even though no one dies in the end – not even the baby, unfortunately – this slim novella is more than worth the time it takes to read it.
Eva Baltasar’s unorthodox approach to the topic will be appreciated by a broad readership. Unorthodox? Perhaps it’s better to say: honest. The Catalan poet does not hold back. Her first novel will tell you that. Permafrost. The sardonic, suicidal narrator in the previous book has been replaced by ‘Boulder,’ an equally plain-talking, brutally honest storyteller whose simple nomadic life as a cook on a freighter is up-ended when she falls in love with Samsa, a woman she meets at one of their ports-of-call.
She is a follower of Samsa from Iceland. Boulder Julia Sanchez translated the story. It tells her tale of gradual, humble submission to domesticity, home ownership and children. Boulder’s conformity is skin-deep at best: she observes her slide into parenthood with horror, narrating this decline with an attitude of mortified disbelief shared only with the reader (and the occasional sympathetic ear of a local bartender). As the couple fills their new house with Ikea furniture in preparation for a child, their neighbourhood social status rises in direct proportion to Boulder’s declining sense of self-worth.
Boulder will be appreciated by those who have themselves resisted the slide into domesticity and parenthood; Baltasar lays bare with her incisive power of observation and blade-like prose the unpleasant realities of parenthood and the many flimsy excuses parents use to persuade themselves that it’s all worth it. The parents will find that all is not lost, even if they are questioning their decisions by the end of the book. Boulder doesn’t hate the baby, as it turns out, and yet her relationship with it is deliciously, queerly ambivalent.
As Boulder gathers momentum, the reader braces themselves for the inevitable confrontation between Boulder’s desire to regain the things she has lost – the fiery desire that initially tied her to Samsa, her self-sufficient autonomy – and her pent-up frustration at their exhausted, routine, penned-in two-parent suburban family life.
This is a delightfully and unabashedly queer novel. Boulder doesn’t entirely succeed at offering queer solutions to this dilemma. Boulder is faced with the dilemma of whether to stay or leave an affair. She also has to decide whether she wants to relive her past life or conform to suburban norms. A truly queer denouement might have seen the protagonists pursue a third course – embracing parenthood while rejecting traditional hetero-cis-centric family roles. The protagonists are ultimately forced to look for creative alternatives.
There is something patently un-queer about Boulder’s reduction of her options to a simple binary – stay or leave, conform to a heteronormative lesbian lifestyle, or reject it. I had hoped that a writer of Baltasar’s creative and heretical talents would have crafted an alternative course for her protagonist, one that did not cleave so closely to the reductionist simplicity of patriarchal and heteronormative family values.
Perhaps such a critique is too harsh; part of Boulder’s charm lies in the fact that she is (like the narrator in Permafrost) a scathingly witty, insouciant reactionary to the double standards she witnesses all around her. Boulder It is a way to observe life, not a method for revolution. Baltasar is true to her roots of poetry in this way, exposing the awkward silences modern life has to offer and then draping them with beautifully etched words that both sting and soothe.
What Boulder It is able to make a strong, poetic declamation against heterocentric parenting roles and their aimless conformity. It isn’t Parenthood The relationship between Boulder, Samsa is transformed by their efforts to be a two-parent family. This is evident through Boulder’s eventual quirky successes at bonding with her child; the child, she realizes, is not the enemy.
Motherhood is not the only thing that matters. Our couple feels compelled by the ciscentric, straight performativity of other mothers. This is their real enemy. Samsa is the one leading, pulling a reluctant Boulder along into parenthood. But Boulder’s resistance is silent, comprised of fiery, sarcastic thoughts shared only with the reader until the end when all her pent-up desire and frustration struggle to escape their cage. The narrative is spoken-word performance in that it picks up speed towards the end. Whether the conclusion is satisfying will reveal as much about the readers as the characters.
Baltasar’s style is not for everyone: dense, more akin to poetry than prose, she is nevertheless a storyteller whose unique voice and perspective are refreshing and a visceral delight to experience. Baltasar’s work is best enjoyed in small amounts, with paragraphs that can be enjoyed for their beauty and role in the plot. As queer in style as it is in content, Boulder is a superb follow-up to Baltasar’s debut and will leave readers craving more of her exquisite storytelling.