Elisa Albert conjures ghost of Amy Winehouse for ‘Human Blues’

On the shelf

Human blues

By Elisa Albert
Avid Reader: 416 pages, $28

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More than anything, Aviva Rosner wants a baby.

In Elisa Albert’s fifth novel “Human Blues”, the protagonist tries “to reconcile her background and her own values,” says Albert in a video interview. Aviva, a wild and successful folk-rock singer who grew up in Los Angeles, is married to a high school history teacher in Albany, NY.

“Human Blues” unfolds via a different kind of grand tour through nine months of Aviva’s menstrual cycles while continually dealing with what she calls “the bleed.” Aviva and Sam try and try to conceive a child the old-fashioned way. Many are urging them to take different avenues to parenthood, such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and adoption. But, says Albert, even though Aviva is “someone who could get what she wants, she doesn’t get beyond her own intuitive reality, doesn’t want to override her belief that her baby should be born without conception.” force.”

Something about Aviva’s struggle for fame, musicianship and being a “good girl” in the world reminded Albert of another musician: the premature British singer Amy Winehouse. The title “Human Blues” comes from mix CDs Winehouse made for friends, so it’s fitting that the cover features some sort of sacred iconography of Winehouse, with her signature black, puffy hair, a Star of David pendant, and the herself forming moon phases a halo.

“We’ve got enough penis rockets on the front page of the newspaper, right?” Albert says when asked about the cover. “So to show someone who, when she was alive and making all her fatal mistakes, was not viewed with approval, but then perished and was raised to angelic martyrdom? I had to research that. Not out of admiration for her path or her choices, but because she refused to play by the rules of others. And that made them deeply important artistically.”

Aviva is involved with the historical Winehouse, and on another level, so is Albert, who met Winehouse’s “mother” and stepfather during a stay in England. “I reached out to Janice Winehouse, just like Aviva does in the book. Janice makes it clear that she doesn’t want to talk to journalists. Luckily I’m not one!” Albert laughs. “She and her husband are perfectly fine having coffee with anyone they consider a true fan. It’s like the longest lasting Shiva where we all love, appreciate and mourn the same person.”

Aviva and her creator share another Winehouse fixation: they both put Amy’s Jewishness first.

“She really was one of us, and we don’t see that very often,” says Albert. “But if she didn’t have the goods, it wouldn’t matter. What I write about in Human Blues is authenticity. It’s about doing the work. The work is hard. The work is not always rewarding. In fact, the work is not rewarding. The rewards come later, know what I mean?”

It took Albert seven years to write the novel, she says, and dropped an F-bomb to emphasize how hard she worked. “We had to cut at least 100 pages. But with this kind of work, we should be allowed to just go to crazy places and then rein it in and find balance.”

"Human blues" by Elisa Albert

Aviva’s long, clever, funny tirades on menstruation, infertility, bodily functions, and sex in its many guises are carefully constructed; Through her, Albert wants to tear down the walls of ignorance that surround laboring bodies. “It’s shocking to me that we didn’t grow up knowing a lot more about these things, whether it’s achieving pregnancy, avoiding pregnancy, or taking care of our own energy levels. … It’s so primal and important.” After the birth, Albert became a part-time doula and learned her own monthly cycles “so I could adjust and make life a little bit easier for me and my loved ones.”

The ending of Aviva’s story is just one of the novel’s surprises. She resists and gives in to many different types of temptations in these nine cycles. But one of the most powerful drugs she has to take is pure, unbridled sexual desire – Aviva’s are some of the wettest panties in literature. Albert laughs long and hard when he hears this, but she also takes it seriously. “Because female sexuality is horribly dangerous and a threat to the status quo and all systems would collapse if women knew our power!” she says.

Albert mentions an essay she has written for an upcoming anthology that deals in part with Jewish purity laws, including the requirement that women live apart during menses. Such customs “have a bad reputation,” she says. “People think it’s about seeing women as unclean, while it’s more about an enlightened view of people riding bikes and giving birth and seeing their innate holiness.”

The essay – and her new novel – got Albert thinking about her own motherhood.

“Having a child at 30 was like a teenage pregnancy for my social circle. Among my peers, I might as well have been 15. It was unsettling,” she says. “But when you have a baby, especially in the community I’m from in California, it’s like, ‘When are you going to have another one?’ If you exist in one of these bodies, you are never finished. you are never good enough You are never mother enough. You are never enough.

“It should be fair to live in a certain type of body, but it’s not. Some of us will suffer, some of us will die too young, it’s not fair, but here we are.”

Albert is speaking from the Albany home where she lives with her spouse, son, and a recently acquired mutt. While still leading a Jewish life, Albert follows her own beliefs. “We all fight as a species, you know?” she says. “What do we want to take with us from the past as we reinvent the world day by day? We actually still need certain rituals, traditions and roots. It is an ongoing personal and collective struggle.”

While we’d love to keep talking about fiction, fertility, and the human blues, it’s soccer mom time. I joke that Albert’s son, who recently celebrated his bar mitzvah, must be thinking, “Today I’m a man, but my mother better get me to practice on time.”

“Absolutely. Like ‘Mom is the best chauffeur,'” she says. “There will always be things that you don’t choose in life, but for me the question is: ‘How do you even make a good life?'”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2022-06-28/elisa-albert-profile Elisa Albert conjures ghost of Amy Winehouse for ‘Human Blues’

Sarah Ridley

Sarah Ridley is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Sarah Ridley joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing sarahridley@ustimespost.com.

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