Human Blues

  • Review
By – August 15, 2022

Elisa Albert’s newest nov­el, Human Blues, tells the sto­ry of Avi­va Ros­ner, a vet­er­an singer-song­writer on the verge of main­stream fame, as she tours the coun­try and strug­gles to have a baby. Wary of repro­duc­tive tech­nol­o­gy like IVF, she spends much of the nov­el on an obses­sive quest to become a moth­er the nat­ur­al” way. Over nine men­stru­al cycles, read­ers get to know every dark cor­ner of Aviva’s mind: she is wit­ty, hon­est, emo­tion­al, sar­cas­tic, lov­ing, blunt, judg­men­tal, angry, and — frankly — some­times quite mean. Though many of these char­ac­ter­is­tics might be con­strued as neg­a­tive, Aviva’s depths of feel­ing make her a relat­able and endear­ing character.

Part of this is no doubt due to Albert’s lyri­cal writ­ing style that cap­tures the raw emo­tions — the hard ones and the beau­ti­ful ones — that com­prise the human expe­ri­ence. If Zadie Smith’s prose and Bob Dylan’s lyrics were to have a child, with just a dash of Hold­en Caulfield, it might resem­ble some­thing like Human Blues. The rich lan­guage deserves savor­ing and will sure­ly draw in many kinds of read­ers, not just those who yearn to be parents.

Avi­va spends much of the nov­el feel­ing extreme­ly angry at both her fer­til­i­ty chal­lenges and the ways in which her cul­ture — eas­i­ly rec­og­niz­able to con­tem­po­rary read­ers — com­mod­i­fies women. Her anger reflects many of the con­tra­dic­to­ry pres­sures that peo­ple, and women in par­tic­u­lar, face in our high-pres­sure world. (Be a good par­ent! Have the best career! Make a lot of mon­ey! Take care of your­self! Be fit and sexy! Go to ther­a­py! Don’t be too emo­tion­al!) What is so refresh­ing about Human Blues is that its Avi­va rec­og­nizes how unfair this mes­sag­ing is and wants none of it. Refus­ing society’s shal­low, com­mer­cial­ized def­i­n­i­tion of fem­i­nin­i­ty, Avi­va allows her anger to fuel her cre­ativ­i­ty — which is pre­cise­ly what gives the nov­el its pow­er. It is not a spoil­er to say that, over the course of the sto­ry, Avi­va real­izes the lies women have been taught about our own pri­or­i­ties, and her ded­i­ca­tion to lib­er­ate her­self from them is incred­i­bly free­ing. Human Blues can teach us all a thing or two about what it means to live authen­ti­cal­ly, espe­cial­ly as Amer­i­can women are forced to watch our human rights erode.

Discussion Questions