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Summary and book reviews of Flesh & Blood by N. West Moss

Flesh & Blood

Reflections on Infertility, Family, and Creating a Bountiful Life: A Memoir

by N. West Moss

Flesh & Blood by N. West Moss X
Flesh & Blood by N. West Moss
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  • Published:
    Oct 2021, 320 pages

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Book Summary

In her wise and witty memoir, N. West Moss discovers how she has been building a fruitful life and legacy - full of curiosity, creativity, and connection - while simultaneously dealing with infertility and illness. This beautifully written book offers insight, understanding, and joy.

"I drive and say to myself, if I am dying, if this is how I die, then this is how I die." When N. West Moss finds herself bleeding uncontrollably in the middle of a writing class, she drives herself to the hospital. Doctors are baffled, but eventually a diagnosis—hemangioma—is determined and a hysterectomy is scheduled. We follow Moss through her surgery, complications, and recovery as her thoughts turn to her previous struggles with infertility, to grief and healing, to what it means to leave a legacy.

Moss's wise, droll voice and limitless curiosity lift this beautiful memoir beyond any narrow focus. Among her interests: yellow fever, good cocktails, the history of New Orleans, and, always, the natural world, including the praying mantis in her sunroom whom she names Claude. And we learn about the inspiring women in Moss's family—her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother—as she sorts out her feeling that this line will end with her. But Moss discovers that there are other ways besides having children to make a mark, and that grief is not a stopping place but a companion that travels along with us through everything, even happiness.

With public figures like Chrissy Teigen and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, speaking out about infertility recently, women are eager for voices that acknowledge their struggles. Fans of Lena Dunham, Leslie Jamison, and Jenny Lawson—along with readers of medical memoirs like When Breath Becomes Air and The Bright Hour—will find that connection in Moss's Flesh & Blood.

Chapter 39: Wheeling into Surgery

A hysterectomy is a common enough operation, but this is my first surgery, and I am attuned to every detail. While some women may experience this as routine, I am like an explorer in a foreign land, my newly acquired access both terrifying and fascinating.

The back of my bed is raised so that I am sitting almost upright as I'm wheeled from the little yellow, curtained "room" through a hallway, past a reception desk of some kind, and into the operating room. I've had to say goodbye to Craig and Mom. For a moment I'm bereft and afraid, and then I'm reminded, not unpleasantly, that we are all essentially alone, that every journey comes down to this moment, when only our eyes see what we experience, only we feel our hearts thumping, only we notice the green tile of the operating room and how enormous and bright the operating lights are. They look like bugs' eyes, with countless bulbs built to reflect the brightest light possible right up inside me, where ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. For millennia, women have been defined by their fertility. How do you think that history affects the author's view of herself and her illness?
  2. While the author is a private person, and our society has not often openly discussed miscarriage, hysterectomy, and infertility, we see her slowly sharing her experiences with her friends, and then even writing this book. What changed for the author? What does Moss gain by opening up? Do secrets ever serve a purpose?
  3. Despite the serious subject matter of the book, the author uses humor throughout. What effect does that have and how does she use humor to help navigate her illness?
  4. The author's relationship with her husband is central to this book. How did you feel about the way Moss describes ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I had to have a hysterectomy years ago, three years before I married. Moss's journey, so honestly and poignantly shared, is unlike anything I've ever read before on the subject (Laura C). Moss has a wonderful, straightforward way of telling us her story, the trials and distress of her problem, and her successful recovery (Marion C). I have to admit, it took me a while to pick up this book...it is not my usual genre and I was afraid I could not relate or would be overwhelmed with sadness. Instead it felt as though I was on a weekend retreat with a friend I had lost touch with years before, where I could be encouraged and uplifted by her self-awareness, confidence and vulnerabilities as she leisurely told me of her experiences while we shared a cocktail (Barbara P)...continued

Full Review Members Only (628 words).

(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In poetic language that's by turns blunt and tender, Moss chronicles how she and her husband weathered their sorrow and surfaced from it, dignity still intact, their love 'made up of the things we couldn't give to one another, but also full of how hard we tried.' This is as an enriching addition to the canon of literature around infertility.

Library Journal
This memoir is full of sensitive thoughts on childlessness and infertility. Moss's contemplations on life in general will resonate with women who are seeking peace and meaning in their own lives.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A moving, well-rendered portrait of the seriously ailing artist...the author delivers an engaging, even charming memoir...A healing balm, this inviting memoir lights a path through grief and illness.

Author Blurb Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Somebody's Daughter
Part journey into the dark crevices of illness, but also a paean to the joys of the daily world, N. West Moss opens her arms wide and embraces the reader with her brilliant—and hilarious—observations. This book uncovers the wonderful 'brightness in the middle' for anyone who has navigated medical puzzles, grief, or just ... life.

Author Blurb Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, author of When We Do Harm: A Doctor Confronts Medical Error
N. West Moss brings us on a journey that is both medical and spiritual. We experience the vertiginous churn of diagnosis and treatment, but also the liberating clarity of connection with the world. Honest, thoughtful, and courageous.

Author Blurb Zachary Lazar, author of Vengeance
A captivating, multilayered story of perseverance. It turns out that the real subject of Flesh & Blood is not so much illness as the author's ever-regenerating powers of vision, her appreciation of the tangible world, the beauty of the here and now.

Author Blurb Theresa Brown, New York Times bestselling author of The Shift
An amazing book! Moss has a gift for describing stones, plants, celery soup and even praying mantises as needed accompaniments to sickness and recovery, along with her kind husband and generous mother. Her singular stories, honesty, and sly humor infuse this memoir of illness not with sadness, but joy.

Author Blurb Martha Witt, author of Broken As Things Are
With a series of gentle incisions, this memoir cuts deep. Moss shows us a grief and gladness that, until now, we could not name.

Reader Reviews

Tracy B. (Pittsboro, NC)

Being a woman
Direct and to the point. I loved the snippets of what was going on in her life. Married late in life. A caring, terrific Mother came to her rescue. The emotional and physical challenges that she experienced. I felt like I was with her throughout the...   Read More
Ariel F. (Madison, WI)

A memoir Flesh and Blood
I found this to be a very interesting read. Her use of words and language was outstanding. At times I felt that I was right there with her. I thank her for sharing her life experience with me.
Jean B. (Naples, FL)

Flesh and Blood
The descriptive phrases written by author N. West Moss ring absolutely true. The reader never thinks the author is deliberately working at being poetic. Example: "Maybe everyone is made up of two rivers, the part on the surface that the sun hits, and...   Read More
Barbara P. (Mountain Center, CA)

An Unexpected Delight
I have to admit, it took me a while to pick up this book. I chose it but then I became anxious about what I might read. it is not my usual genre and I was afraid I could not relate or would be overwhelmed with sadness. Instead it felt as though I was...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Books That Address Infertility

In Flesh & Blood, author N. West Moss writes of her struggles with infertility, detailing her emotional reactions to miscarriages and an illness resulting in a hysterectomy. The feelings, experiences and circumstances surrounding an inability to conceive are multifaceted and varied, and so are the works of literature that have addressed it as a subject. Below are five books that deal with the personal fallout of infertility and its broader effects.

Books About Infertility

Brood by Jackie Polzin

Kirkus Reviews calls Flesh & Blood "similar in spirit" to Jackie Polzin's novel Brood, as both books are about women who grapple with their inability to have children while immersing themselves in the animal world: In Moss's case, a praying mantis and cats; ...

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  • and much more!
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  • More about membership!

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