The Spirit of the Afterbirth and the After Birth of the Holy Spirit
By: Debra G Patterson
Genre: Religious (Christian) inspiration/poetry/memoir
What on Earth did I just read?
If The Spirit of the Afterbirth and the After Birth of the Holy Spirit were at your party, it would be that excited, charismatic woman that wanted to tell you all about how amazing you are. She’d introduce herself cordially to the rest of your guests and compliment your home and your outfit. She’d listen to every single one of your boring anecdotes and tell you there is absolutely no way she could throw such a wonderful party as the one to which you’ve so graciously invited her. You’d be flattered. When it was finally her turn to speak, you’d have no choice but to listen with a kind smile while she told you how proud she was of her new beautiful dress that she bought for your occasion. You simply wouldn’t have the heart to point out that it seemed to be missing a sleeve and her underwear was showing. You’d want to punch your significant other in the face when they pointed out that it was on backwards. It would be nothing short of torture.
So you must understand that I do not want to be giving this book a bad review. I want to punch myself in the face for it. When the author, Debra G. Patterson introduced herself to me one day (she’ll never remember it… I hope) and told me about the book she’d written and how she dreamed of being a “big writer,” I was excited for the opportunity to read her work. I wrote down the name of the book, which she bashfully admitted was a mouthful, on a little notepad and told her I’d be looking her up. She was beside herself. Forgive me for paraphrasing as I don’t have a recording of the conversation, but she told me that she had written the book “not to convert anyone, but because everyone just has such bad self esteem these days, you know? People just don’t feel good about themselves.” I almost want to spell her name wrong a few times as I write this just to make sure she doesn’t ever read it.
Before I get into my feelings about the book, I know that some of my readers know who my partner is and they know she’s the infamous YouTube Queen of Atheism. I know it will be tempting to accuse me of bringing my own personal feelings about religion into my review of this book, but let me assure you that my partner and I have significantly different passions. I can appreciate religious literature. I can appreciate all kinds of art without agreeing with it. I can appreciate memoir, heartfelt poetry, and well-done fantasy along the entire spectrum of godless to extreme mysticism, and just as often I disdain poorly done work that agrees with me (The God Delusion comes to mind). Had The Spirit of the Afterbirth accomplished what it had set out to accomplish, then I would be more than capable of giving credit where it’s due.
Enough about me. Let’s get this unpleasantness over with. This book is barely coherent. It’s a collection of poems about God and Jesus followed by several personal anecdotes, followed by several commands to be grateful and happy or something followed by more poems and anecdotes. To be fair, the anecdotes are almost interesting. Patterson’s memories definitely come alive in their vivid descriptions and I could imagine myself in her grandmother’s kitchen washing dishes or combing her great-grandmother’s white hair. I could see her as a child walking down hot Louisiana streets and the tar melting and sticking to her and her siblings’ best shoes on their way home from church. But the spell was broken at the end of every sentence, because literally over three quarters of them ended with exclamation points. Even if they hadn’t… I’ll be honest even though I want to stomp on my own foot right now, they still wouldn’t have helped the book because they never went anywhere. She’d tell a story about combing her great-grandmother’s hair and it would all amount to nothing. What did she take from this experience? What did it have to do with anything? Nothing. She just wanted to talk about it.
The central theme of this book is difficult to pinpoint, but I think it’s meant to be inspiration. As religious texts go, there’s very little in the way of preachiness. Patterson made good on her promise. There was clearly no intent to convert. What the intent was, however, is anyone’s guess. It did make some exciting claims like, for example, the birth of Jesus brought Democrats and Republicans together:
The Young Babe was worshiped and sought out by all nations: black, white, the poor, the humbled shepherds, and the wealthy! He was wisely honored by three noble kings! For once, both Democrats and Republicans came together under one small roof while bearing precious gifts! Above all, they hoped to witness the birth of the Boy King. They found him in the after birth!
That would have been pretty neat if there were any such thing back then.
The words were all spelled correctly, and to the best of my knowledge they were all real words that actually exist and were placed in relatively appropriate contexts, so my difficulty in completing this book was less a result of careless errors than it was my personal inability to fix my attention upon the religious-for-the-sake-of-religion. There’s no coherent story. There is no arc. There is no rhyme or reason to any of it. The poems aren’t even sectioned by theme. The book could perhaps have benefited from at least that. I mean, I wasn’t expecting Milton or Dante, but a minimum of some kind of literary adhesive. This section is about joy and that section about sorrow. Something, anything. In my head, I begged silently for her to work with me. In return, I got more of a love, tenderness, joy, and inspiration that was incapable of direction.
Sitting by the roadside and while waiting upon a change, blind Bartimaeus became disturbed by a great noise! It arose from the large gathering that chose to ignore him in his problem! He had once considered many of the “passer byes” to be his good friends. But they mocked and scorned him into silence!
I’m sorry, book. I’m sorry, author. You can come back to all of my parties but you probably won’t want to after you heard what I said about you. I’m going to go drown in guilt now.