This book feels so important. I read it twice in a row, but still, when people ask me what it is about I struggle to find an appropriate answer. It is a beautiful and honest account of motherhood. It is a love story. It is a story of family. The Argonauts is a calm, compassionate attack on our culture’s need for everything to be categorized and to fit a familiar storyline.
In The Argonauts Maggie Nelson tells the story of her relationship with her partner, Harry Dodge, and their experience making a family as a queer couple. She talks in detail about her journey to motherhood: from the process of getting pregnant through insemination to the birth of her child, Iggy. Paralleled with the story of the physical and emotional changes of motherhood is the story of Harry’s gender transition.
Throughout The Argonauts, Nelson celebrates the ambiguities in life instead of trying to explain them away. She struggles to accept that sometimes words are not enough, sometimes words box people in. This book is both an acceptance of and an argument against the idea that words are unable to express everything. Nelson conveys the inexpressibility of things in such a tangible and elegant way. She chooses her words carefully. She uses complex language, but not as a way to impress or show her superiority. You get the sense that Nelson spends a lot of time looking up words in the dictionary. She uses the words she needs to get her point across.
Throughout the book she uses lots of quotations from other artists and authors, tied in flawlessly with her own thoughts. Sometimes someone else can express what you are unable to or give you the language to express it yourself. I liked that she incorporated quotes from her influences as it felt, in some ways, like being invited into Nelson’s whole thought process. The care with which she writes is notable— Nelson is able to articulate the depths and complexities of family, love, and gender without getting twisted up in her own words, which I am struggling to do just writing this damn book recommendation.
Nelson does an amazing job of capturing the complexities of being human in her writing. The Argonauts felt particularly important because Nelson calls attention to the prejudices and hypocrisies we all carry with us. She is not self-righteous in her criticism of the intolerance people have for people unlike them. She acknowledges these flaws on a personal level while showing how they tie into the ways our culture is broken on a larger scale.
The book shows the importance of recognizing the complexities of each of our individual experiences and just how much can be lost when we try to simplify things to make them fit into preconceived categories. It was such a beautiful and honest account of starting a family and all the difficulties and joys that arise from it. It challenged and comforted me at the same time. What The Argonauts is, more than anything else, is a tender, powerful call to accept the fluidity of things.