We’ve all heard the story of boy meets girl: They fall in love, get married, have children. For Paula Carter, author of “No Relation,” the story goes differently.Twenty-six years old and enrolled in graduate school, she is at work at the university library when she shares a smile with a handsome artist named James. After their first date, James calls Paula to tell her he has two sons, Caleb and Alex. He would like her to meet them right away.
What unfolds are flash essays as startling as they are lovely, bittersweet as they are earnest. Carter details her experiences helping raise the boys and her heartbreak when she leaves them after her relationship with James ends. Rooted in vivid details and impressionistic emotions, we feel nestled in Carter’s headspace as she investigates a cascade of memories co-parenting Alex and Caleb, loving James and recalling her own childhood. She attempts to discover what constitutes a family and how to define her role for the boys, years after seeing them.
While “No Relation” follows the narrative arcs of falling in and out of love, growing to care for the boys and grieving their separation, Carter’s essays also meditate on how our relationships construct the “self.” How does Carter construct a self when she is thrust into a parenting role? How does she reinvent herself as a “new woman” when she moves to Chicago? Carter reflects on the many selves she occupied as her mother’s child, as a mother figure herself and as someone discovering who she is now. In prose that is both wrenching and humorous, Carter demonstrates that no matter who or in what time your relationships may be, they help determine the most important relationship of all: the one you have with yourself. (Sadaf Ferdowsi)
By Paula Carter
Black Lawrence Press, 115 pages, $15.95
The book launch is on November 17, 7:30pm at Women and Children First Bookstore, 5233 North Clark, (773)769-9299.