By Deborah Copaken
If you’re disgusted, you might consider skipping the first section of Deborah Copaken’s âLadyparts,â which describes bleeding from her vagina due to cuff dehiscence. Don’t bother to google this, but let’s just say it was a near-death experience that involved kidney-sized blood clots splashing across the floor, which she recovered in shock from a Tupperware container. (Copaken was a photographer before he was a writer; if the description doesn’t do that for you, it includes a photo as well.)
Is it sexist of me to be disgusted by such an image? Perhaps. We are subjected to bloody descriptions of men dying in war. But we feel that the shock effect of this first scene is part of the story – and that, perhaps, Copaken is waiting to call you out for not having been able to bear it.
“Ladyparts” uses female anatomy as a vehicle to detail how the author’s body has failed her, and society has objectified this, throughout her life. Which may sound as retro as the title in the post-genre world we live in, but as Copaken describes it, it’s an effort to overturn that old patriarchal frame. “By objectifying my own body into its various parts – minus the misogyny – I could provide a useful microscope through which to contemplate the immensity of a lifetime,” she writes.
It is an intelligent organizing principle. But to group all aspects of a life into anatomical categories can seem overwhelming, as Copaken veers among catastrophic illnesses, the “death spiral” of her marriage, independent writing, an imploding media landscape, shortcomings. from Medicare, sexual harassment, Eastern Welfare, the death of his father, the Black Lives Matter protests and, ultimately, Covid.
In a section called “Uterus”, she describes the removal of her own a few days after losing a mentor and “surrogate mother,” writer Nora Ephron, and at “the exact hour” her teenage daughter had her babies. rules for the first time. In “Breast”, she discovers a bump as she drives her son to college, the day her ex-husband left the family home and at a time when she had no health insurance. âHeartâ describes the palpitations that occur as she struggles to financially support her family. “Cervix” explores the removal of her lower uterus as she dates again, while trying to decipher Tinder’s new rules (and language).
There’s free admission everywhere, though: with anecdotes that only serve to highlight the presence of semi-famous friends and an entire chapter devoted to expressing past grudges against those who have declined, sometimes sexistically, the job. past of Copaken.
And names. So many names. Ephron, to whom are devoted three chapters and a dedication; Darren Star, her frequent dinner companion on the show “Emily in Paris” of which she would become a writer (although they had a credit quarrel); Meg Wolitzer, a close friend; Malcolm Gladwell, who once wrote a portrait of his father in The New Yorker; Lena Dunham and Natasha Leon, with whom she shares Ephron as a mentor.
There is no doubt that Copaken has led an interesting life and has faced more than his share of health issues. She’s also struggled financially, and discusses with refreshing honesty – and dollar amounts – the often opaque finances of independent journalism.
But after nearly 500 pages, a reader may wonder what this book is meant to be. Is it an exploration of the hardships of being a woman today, an approach to the medical industry that doesn’t take women’s pain seriously, or is it an overkill to prove its worth?
It’s all of those things, but the latter undermines the former.