Mele Bart finds herself in something of a pickle. She’s a single mother by virtue of the fact that, Bobby, the father-to-be ditched her for another woman. Two years later Bobby and the other woman are getting hitched and they want Mele’s daughter, Ellie, to be the flower girl. Mele is simply trying to keep her head above the perilous mommy-infested waters of the San Francisco Mommy Club, where she has found a few friends. Her latest scheme is to enter a cookbook contest. Mele is surrounded by children, mothers, fathers and most importantly, stories.
How to Party With an Infant is the latest novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, and readers will feel warmly, darkly and hilariously surrounded by Mele’s stories, and not just hers alone. How to Party With an Infant is a fascinating novel, with a rambling feel, but a coherent core. Mele tells her story by filling out the cookbook content online form in often-embarrassing first-person detail. In the course of the novel, she also tells the stories of her friends, Annie, Barrett, Georgia, and Henry, the stay-at-home father.
Hemmings pursues her characters with an almost ruthless honesty. She takes events to their logical conclusion, no matter how unhappy (in the moment) that conclusion may prove to be. There’s a raw, urgent feel to the writing here, even as it is quite carefully orchestrated and woven through storytelling in a variety of platforms, from blog posts to third-person tales of suburban displacement. It’s clear Hemmings knows these people. She’s lived the life and admitted to all the weaknesses as well as embracing the strengths.
Prepare to laugh often and out loud as you read How to Party With an Infant. Hemmings has a great set of verbal ju-jitsu moves to shake loose the laughter. She clearly loves her socially-sinning characters who are generally just trying to get through one life or another without crashing and burning. The wedding of prose and perspective more than makes up for Mele’s missed nuptials.
The telling of the tales is vividly important. Mele’s cookbook-entry form verbiage is brusque, warm, funny, and sometimes flinch-worthy, which is to say, powerful. But Hemmings goes beyond the standard novel form and gives us four solid short stories, one for each friend. She gives us blog posts and there are stories entwined there as well. While this seems like a lot of verbiage, Hemmings is a master of cutting to the chase. How to Party With an Infant is amazingly succinct.
I spoke with Kaui Hart Hemmings at KQED and we discussed the personal experiences that informed the book. She is, not surprisingly, disarmingly charming and admirably to the point. If you’d like to get a brief sense of what both she and the book are like, you can hear my lightning round interview below.
Now if you want to hear a bit more of the story behind the stories, just settle back and listen to our in-depth interview.