Writers will tell you that their books are like their children: They nurture them, struggle with them and orient their whole lives around them. Elisa Albert plays with this trite analogy between artistic creation and parenthood in her third novel, Human Blues, the energetic tale of a singer-songwriter who wants to get pregnant but can’t.
Aviva’s infertility leads her and her husband, Sam, to consider the option of assisted reproductive technology. However, even though Aviva wants a child, she is terrified of these alternative methods. Her ambivalence fuels her music, giving her the perfect material for a breakthrough album. As she steps into her new position in the spotlight, she begins to wonder: Does she really want all that she says she wants? And who gets a say in what she really wants?
Spanning nine of Aviva’s menstrual cycles, Human Blues is filled with personality as Albert merges questions of fame and fertility into a thought-provoking exploration of agency and expression. Aviva’s musicianship gives Albert’s prose a distinct rhythm: It’s fast and sweet, with enough attitude to put Sleater-Kinney or even Lizzo to shame. Aviva’s characterization as a young bohemian fosters pop culture references aplenty, and this becomes a central aspect in the plot as her obsession with Amy Winehouse transforms from innocent worship to a near loss of self. As Aviva’s fame grows, she turns to her idol but is confronted with a grisly picture of stardom and womanhood gone sour. Whether she’s watching blockbuster movies or taking a yoga class, Aviva is confronted with the implications of her gender at every turn.
Aviva and Sam are unprepared for their biological processes to become subject to scrutiny, and they’re overwhelmed by philosophical questions about nature and nurture. In this way, the invasiveness of social media mirrors the invasiveness of the fertility industrial complex, and excerpts of Aviva’s online presence provide an all-too-relatable dimension to her physical and mental bombardment. But solace does come, and as the title implies, the result is an emotional, life-affirming howl into a wild world.