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Benjamin Button: a very big baby boy

December 24, 2008 | 10:05 am


Amy Shearn kicks off our discussion of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

So I've read over the first half of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" a few times now, and am finding myself very curious indeed to find out what you and the other bloggers have to say about it.

I want to admit right away that my reading of this is completely influenced by the fact that I'm pregnant with my first child. I found the opening scene in the hospital funny, sure (the doctor's "harsh, medicinal face"! Mr. Button's confused exclamations -- "What was it? How is she? A boy? Who is it?"), but also, frankly, harrowing. I mean, poor Roger Button bumbling around the hospital trying to get answers and being greeted with only exclamations of anger and fear ... it's practically a horror story! And then of course the mother just sort of disappears, along with the question of how a woman could actually give birth to a full-grown man. I mean, I know I'm being absurd here but I've been thinking about childbirth a lot lately and this particular size-ratio situation has me concerned.

When really, in a way, maybe it's not actually all that different from any first-time parent's experience. It strikes me that Mr. Button is always asking the wrong questions. "Is it a boy or a girl?" is no longer, as he doesn't yet know, the relevant query here. Whenever anyone has a baby the question really is, as Mr. Button stutters out, "Who is it?" And the thing is, you just don't know. It's perfect how Benjamin says, "I can't tell you exactly who I am, because I've only been born a few hours." It seems to me to be exactly what all babies would say if they could, or maybe what it is they are saying with those first red-faced screams. One of the most striking things about this story seems to me to be how, despite everything, Benjamin really does seem like a brand-new being in these first pages -- holding his father's hand, tremulously asking him questions.

Well, that and how funny it is. I love the outfit Mr. Button picks out for his son and the description thereof -- "The effect was not good." The resigned way Benjamin tries to play with the baby toys he's given truly pinpoints how silly most of these objects are -- try explaining to someone what's fun about a rattle, and learn how little fun a rattle really has any right to be. And yet despite being so goofy, these sections about his young years also strike me as being quite poignant. It's so hard for Mr. Button to accept (through the haze of Benjamin's cigar smoke) his child for what he is! Granted, his child is more unusual than most -- but isn't this hard for every parent? Who knows, maybe it's just pregnancy hormones making me read too much into things. What do you guys think?

-- Amy Shearn

Photo by Tanakawho via Flickr