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The Pharmacist's Mate and 8

by Amy Fusselman

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The Pharmacist's Mate and 8 by Amy Fusselman
© McSweeney's
McSweeney's 2013

Amy Fusselman got her start by submitting a synopsis of her first book to a contest at McSweeney's. Many months and many e-mails later, she was contacted by Dave Eggers and told to go write her story. The Pharmacist's Mate was the result. Years later, Fusselman began working on 8. Now, McSweeney's has published both books in theis single volume.

The Pharmacist's Mate, originally published in 2001, tells the story of Fusselman's quest to get pregnant in the wake of her father's death. Fusselman's story is fragmented and interrupted by passages from her father's journal. Her father kept this journal throughout his first eight months as the Purser-Pharmacist's Mate onboard the Liberty Ship George E. Pickett during World War II.

While her father is treating men for nail punctures and pneumonia aboard his war ship in 1945, Fusselman is in the contemporary trenches of fertility treatments and artificial inseminations. She writes quite cleverly, never making the reader feel too badly for her. She refers to herself, at times, in third person as the "possibly pregnant person."

She writes candidly about her quest for pregnancy. "I want to get pregnant. Or maybe more accurately, I don't want to die without having had children." She told her father that she and her husband, Frank, were trying to get pregnant: "And sometimes I would sit in the hospital room with him, and think that this was my job, at this stage in my life: to get this new life form into my body." Her father was excited, she writes, about her becoming pregnant. And being unable to give him a grandchild before he dies, her quest for pregnancy becomes interwoven with the personal journey of the twenty-one year old version of her father that he left in his journals, making it not just her story, but his as well.
8, first published in 2007, picks up years after The Pharmacist's Mate. In 8, Fusselman has two children - King, the child she was trying to conceive in her first book, and Mick, her younger son.

The reader learns more about the author herself, separate from her connection with her father. For instance, Fusselman talks obliquely about being raped at the age of four by her babysitter's husband. She doesn't talk about the rape or explain it directly; in fact, she broaches the subject with the line: "Pedophiles are so crazy. I know this because I had one." However, her rapist, the man she refers to as "my pedophile" is ever-present throughout the text.

Fusselman repeatedly writes about adults having no imagination, how it is difficult to imagine anything new or previously unknown, unlike children, whose imaginations run rampant.

She cites an incident that occurred when she was a young girl. Her mother took her to see a production of Sleeping Beauty. She attests that when the play got to the point when the prince was about to kiss the princess, Fusselman herself ran up on the stage and kissed that prince, with everyone watching. Her editor, having presented this story to her creative writing class, explained to Fusselman that is was not believable. Fusselman's response, and the issue that she tosses back and forth throughout 8 is this: how can adults find it believable for a grown adult to rape a four-year-old, but not believable that a young girl would run up on stage to kiss her prince? Why is childhood rape in the realm of the believable, but the other is outside the imagination?

She comes back to her story at certain points after having written it in its entirety, and her interruptions are meant as clarification. One in particular is about a monster truck rally, or specifically a singular monster truck, that inspired her. This truck, Grave Digger, did not follow the prescribed rules of monster truck rallying, and the crowd went wild as it drove and crashed recklessly.

What is carried throughout both books is Fusselman's fascination with time - fixed time, movable time, measurable and immeasurable time. In The Pharmacist's Mate, she writes, "I realize that all I am doing is trying to make this writing reflective of a linear concept of time." The passages up until this point are numbered, one through forty-two. But now, she realizes, to treat time as a progression, each new step must begin again at one. And from this point, each passage is numbered "1," with each one signifying a kind of new start or beginning.

In 8, she writes, "Time is a greater mother to us than our own mothers." Time teaches us repetition, she believes, or how to be a robot. Time, for us, is inextricable entwined with the watch that we wear on our wrists. But she argues that time is not something that is counted in seconds, but it is a medium that envelopes us. It is not something to live by, but something that lives by us and our actions.

Both The Pharmacist's Mate and 8 are stories about healing and letting go - about coming to terms with her father's death and about reconciling her horrors of being raped as a child with the adult mother she has become.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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