Book review: “The Long Answer” by Anna Hoagland

long answer, by Anna Hoagland


The question that keeps many women awake at night right now is whether our government will abolish or support our right to control and choose our reproductive destinies. For 50 years, the law has recognized a woman’s body as private, a woman’s life is our life, and now the right to choose our own destiny is in jeopardy. What is the problem in that? This is the question that this first novel asks.

It turns out that the “long answer” consists of a wide range of complex facts for women with reproductive systems: childbirth, childbirth complications, miscarriages, D&Es, stillbirths, miscarriages, egg donation, fertility treatments, pregnancy, pregnancy complications and infertility. This book addresses all of those experiences and is truly a breathtaking account of the many ways women carry, carry and lose their babies, the many possible and impossible choices to make, and the many surrenders and compulsions to endure. All accounts in the novel make it clear that the only thing that makes any of them possible is the agency that each woman can claim.

The two women at the heart of the book are sisters, but they are not close. The novel begins with a phone call between a woman named Anna and her older sister, Margot, who reveals that she has miscarried her second child (she has a healthy young child); Anna did not know that her sister was pregnant. but me he is Newly pregnant with her first child, so their conversation is cut short and succinct. The two sisters are unable to find common ground until they begin discussing the intimate details of a third woman, Elizabeth, whose extensive back story we get – rather than that of Anna and Margot.

This story-within-a-story device occurs three times: Although Anna, Margot, and their mother are ostensibly the main characters, they step back and reveal very little about themselves. Instead, we hear in great detail about the lives of three other women—Elizabeth, Corrie, and Marisol—as told by Anna. (The author is a wizard, reading this book is no different than tapping into someone else’s session.) These intertwined stories are where readers find women of color, bisexuals, the histories of abuse and neglect, and life-defining poverty. Each of these women appears, everything leaks and disappears from Anna’s life.

Anna keeps a close eye on the other women – we know this because in her yoga class she noticed that Cory’s toenails were unpainted and her yoga clothes were cheap. But these details seem a little cheap. Cory is poor and her story is shocking and sad, but her problems are never solved or explored because she only gets one episode. Is her story important or not? With women living under the specter of reproductive rights’ demise — yes, her story is important: it’s worth listening and reading. From the main character’s perspective, Cory is one of the many stories Anna uses to sort and give meaning to her life.

Or maybe to understand all of our lives. Anna often says: “I needed stories like these now. I needed them as if I needed water and salt, to tell me what was possible in the course of life.” I’m right there with her, gluttonous for women’s narratives, our histories, our images, and our views. Now these stories are crucial. I’ll listen to them all, even if this particular novel is worrisomely uncertain about who its story is – that of the protagonist or the supporting characters. Whether or not this book harmoniously brings their voices together, it makes clear and reiterates that the precious little situations between women and reproductive slavery, and our stories—these vivid accounts we’ve heard, whispered, and written into novels—continue to show that we live lives worth living, that women are human beings. viable.


Brenda Shaughnessy is the author of the recent book The Octopus Museum. She has two new books, “Liquid Flesh: New and Selected Poems” and “Tania”, about to be released.


long answer, by Anna Hoagland | 304 p. | Riverhead Books | $26