Following the birth of his first child, Madeleine, Hall decided to record her progress from howling neonate to self-aware toddler. This is not a log of her first taste of banana, or wave in a mirror, but an attempt to describe what it feels like to crawl out of the primordial soup and into a brave new world of booster seats and Sesame Street reruns.
Hall's book is a testament to a very American way of child care: one that puts the child at the centre of the universe, with parents as madly revolving satellites beaming unflinching adoration.
The world according to Madeleine - more accurately, Madeleine's world according to her ever-anxious papa - is a bewildering landscape of madly grinning "Stim-mobiles" and breast-shaped fire alarms. A place where the only constants are Mommy's boobs and the changing-table.
In his exhaustive, and at times exhausting, study, Hall often pushes his parental empathy to the nth degree. What exactly does Madeleine make of the Technicolor butterfly in The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Is the plum on her plate the same as the conceptual plum in her book? When she says "Moo!" does she mean cow or moon? And if she sees the moon as a distant, shimmering breast, does this mean the cow is also branded with maternal magic?
But if at times the linguistic ruminations get too much, there's always the pleasantly woodsy goings on of the Hall household to distract attention. Brian and wife Pamela divide the child-care 40/60, eschew meat, hang their walls with Shaker-style quilts and believe in home deliveries. In fact, towards the end of the book, Madeleine witnesses the birth of her sister Cora, despite her grandmother's attempts to distract her with a jumbo- sized jigsaw puzzle.
Admirably unsentimental when it comes to such emotional set pieces, and modestly downbeat, Hall could get away with spilling a few more beans. When he mentions that Madeleine always takes his wife's side when they argue, you're left gasping to know what this eminently reasonable couple could possibly fight about.
Sounding like a cross between Nicholson Baker and Bill Bryson, Brian Hall is a reassuringly matey guide through the treacherous minefields of babydom. But even first-time mommies and daddies - prime suckers when it comes to baby-lit - may find these three years with Brian and Madeleine a little too much like real life for fun.
Reviewed by Emma HagestadtReuse content