Human Blues’ is our August Book Club Pick

welcome to #ReadWith™—Marie Claire’s virtual book club. It’s nice to have you! In August, we read Elisa Albert’s book The human blues, an unforgettable and darkly funny novel about a singer-songwriter and the intersection of motherhood, ambition and technology. Read an excerpt from the novel below, then find out how to participate. (You really don’t have to leave your couch!)


She would soon bleed. whore this. Another pregnancy test was negative.

You enter the real world, read the sign posted on the back fence of the property. It was New Year’s Day. The garbage was nestled in the weeds along the road. Soda cans, fast food wrappers, plastic bags and an untouched Handi Wipe square that someone had scribbled on, This is not a condom.

Negative. Still.

She had been so patient. So be patient! How many negatives now? More than a year. Shit. Almost two years of negatives. Almost in third year. And again, again, again, still: nothing. GodDamn this. Negative. Still. Still! Still. Still.

She had been soft on all of this for a long time: whatever happened, happened. It would happen! Of course it would. It would happen. No need to stress. No need to panic. The important thing was not panic – everyone knew that. She was (relatively) happy, she was (relatively) healthy, she was in her green half thirties, she was in a great relationship, and tiiiiii-ii-iiiime, was on her side, yeah, that was. But at some point – a year of negatives? Of them? After three… she had become really quiet. Confused. Scared. Mad. Sad. She gritted her teeth, dug in her heels, and tried to find a way to inhabit the situation with a modicum of dignity. She read all the books, listened to all the podcasts. She changed her diet, her point of view, her expectations. She “made room”. She “summoned the spirits”. She “gathered the bones”.

And still: nothing. Nothing. Nothing! Negative pee stick on negative pee stick on negative pee stick. Cycle after cycle after cycle. And now she was downright pissed. Enraged. What is the real Shit. Now she was outright begging. Come fuck on. Please! Seriously. There was no dignity in it now. Now she was foaming at the mouth. Now she was gritting her teeth and mumbling to herself. Now she was half mad about this injustice. Now any pregnancy anywhere near her eye socket felt like a low branch to her eye.

Last summer, the Tarot Queen of the Berkshires had informed this tearful, barren supplicant that there were cherubim absolutely everywhere, all around. “Good news, darling: you are positively surrounded by the angels, which means motherhood is imminent.”

Yay! Wow! OK! But . . . Nope. And no. And no. Every forsaken period, every cycle, every fractal season: awakening, hope, decay, death, awakening, hope, decay, death, around and around, again and again, until death, death, death.

She knew it was wrong. An uncomfortable disguise. But what did she know about the company at the time? She had wanted to get along, to be pleasant, and yet was presented as a more or less crazy bitch.

Yet how many times had she recommitted herself to don’t worry?! It wasn’t one of those things that could be done with the mind.. The main thing was to put it out of your mind – everyone knew that. You stopped caring, you “gave up” and BAM. You said shit and spent all your savings on a trip around the world, and BAM. You had a one-night stand with an Aussie plumber and BAM. You adopted, and BAM. It wasn’t one of those things that responded well to thinking. It wasn’t one of those things you could tell what to do.

So Aviva had officially relaxed. She had repeatedly let’s go. She had renderedagain and again. She had been so decidedly cool. For one year. For two! To go to three. And again: negative. Still. Still. Another one. Still.

Shit.

It was unbearable. (Ha!) It was inconceivable. (Oh yes.)

She had already walked a long mile uphill, on the dirt road behind the property, and stopped to catch her breath, after which she let out a throaty cry into the listless and desolate hill, the cold blue sky, the of clouds of cotton balls. Then she turned and headed back, picking up as much trash as she could take along the way – the soda cans, the fast food wrappers, the plastic bags, the Handi Wipe square – all of which she thrown in the trash of his studio. , in addition to the umpteenth fucking negative pee stick, from where, no doubt, everything would end up being transported to a landfill on the side of another country road.

The property was an artists’ colony, a hybrid rehab/camp/meditation center for creatives, no advisers or authority figures, nothing mandatory. Three dozen writers, musicians, poets, painters, sculptors and composers received a small stipend to live/work here for a few weeks or months at a time, rehearsing inevitable little family reenactments amid good old-fashioned no-excuses creative good practice and the occasional fuck. You had to feed yourself lunch, but there was a buffet breakfast and a starch/veg/protein for dinner. You had your own studio in the woods and if you wanted to make friends you made friends and if you didn’t want to make friends you kept your distance which aroused the suspicion and curiosity of everyone who really wanted to be friends. Aviva changed her mind every few days about whether or not she wanted to make friends, which made her very popular.

She was there to mess around and make room for whatever might come next. It was Jerry’s idea. His manager. Aviva’s fourth album was out within weeks, and there was an upcoming tour, the biggest of her career so far.

“You’re about to do some big things,” Jerry said. “This album is the turning point.”

“Keep your pants on, Jer; it’s just some recorded songs for sale. “Anyway, you little bitch, you better be prepared for what’s to come. Relax. Hide. Write new songs. You gotta be a step beyond whatever you’re touring with. Lou Reed used to say that.

“Art and commerce being indisputably opposites and all, right, Jer?” Her debut album had been a punky little DIY effort recorded in an independent studio (aka a failed producer’s Culver City guesthouse) when Aviva was barely out of her teens, bouncing between states, apartments , beds, office jobs. Busking on Venice Beach Boardwalk for weekend tips. Circulation limited to a thousand CDs, but it became a small cult hit, with a surprisingly friendly press, acquired and reissued by a small but respectable independent label. Who doesn’t love a quirky young plaintive hippie folk-punk freak with big tits?

The second album had been produced by a crafty asshole. That asshole had pushed her into the wrong look/story/sound. Heavy on drums, a bit of ironic synth. She knew it was wrong. An uncomfortable disguise. But what did she know about the company at the time? She had wanted to get along, to be pleasant, and yet was presented as a more or less crazy bitch. The single from this album was a hymn to encounters with the terminally ill, inspired by the doomed romance of her brother Rob as he died of a brain tumour. Stupid anthem of disaster, every breakup is an existential crisis, video full of tears, same old shit. But he’d ended up getting a license to play over the closing credits of a popular TV high school drama series finale, which led to a mild flurry of money and indie radio plays.

Used with permission from The human blues (opens in a new tab)(Avid Reader Press, 2022). Copyright © 2022 by Elisa Albert.

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