Maggie Nelson and Harry Dodge have a non traditional family, while doing common things like struggling to get pregnant and raising two children together. In her memoir, The Argonauts, Nelson explores the unique aspects of their lives. At the same time, she discusses how they began, their challenges, pregnancy and childbirth, their kids.

Building a blended family and being a stepmother to a son are things I could relate to. Being involved with a gender-fluid partner, not so much. Nelson discusses their lives, but also integrates the stories with a cultural exploration of sexuality, gender, and family theories.

Moments that moved me

“But whatever sameness I’ve noted in my relationships with women is not the sameness of Woman, and certainly not the sameness of parts. Rather, it is the shared, crushing understanding of what it means to live in a patriarchy.”

“How does one get across the fact that the best way to find out how people feel about their gender or their sexuality—or anything else, really—is to listen to what they tell you, and to try to treat them accordingly, without shellacking over their version of reality with yours?” (see my recent review of a book about listening)

My conclusions

Parts of this were captivating, and other parts just didn’t connect for me. That’s the nature of memoir—reading something about a life other than your own. The parts I didn’t love were the critical theory aspects, but perhaps I just don’t have the background to appreciate them. Or maybe I just found them pretentious.

Nelson draws from sources like Susan Sontag, Allen Ginsberg, and Audre Lorde. But also from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, D.W. Winnicott, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Some familiar to non-academic folks like me. Some not so much. If you’re curious, here’s a list of all the various texts she references.

I listened to the audiobook, and admit that my attention drifted sideways pretty regularly. Thankfully, it’s a short book. As I compare Nelson’s approach with similar books I’ve read, Nelson suffers. But I applaud her exposition of these ideas. They need a voice and she is strongly that.

I’d pair this with the upcoming book from Jennifer Finney Boylan, Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs.