David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Laurie Foos’ “Ex Utero”

Laurie Foos' 'Ex Utero'This book review was originally published in the Baltimore City Paper on June 7, 1995.

A woman wakes up one morning to discover that she’s lost her uterus. “It was at the mall, she believes, that her womb fell out and was lost in the crowd,” the narrator states, “in a mob of women with baby strollers, their feet stomping over her last shot at motherhood.”

Sounds like the stand-up routine of some bad late-night HBO comedian, but this premise turns out to be the centerpiece of a quirky debut novel by Laurie Foos. By toying with the anxieties of reproducing-age women and masculinity-conscious men alike, Foos ensures that you’ll leave Ex Utero much more confused about the whole baby-making process than you were scant hours before.

In true surreal fashion, the cause of Rita’s sudden loss is never explained, although she guiltily wonders if maybe she’s been de-wombed from disuse. Rita soon becomes a media celebrity through her exposure on the Donahue-ish “Nodderman Show,” and her affliction becomes a litmus test for the country’s attitudes about femininity. A radical group called the Fruitless Wombs begins picketing for left-wing causes in her name; a woman named Adele finds that her vagina has “closed up shop” like a Barbie doll in sympathy with Rita; and another traumatized woman named Lucy discovers that her menstrual period just won’t stop.

Obviously Gogol and Kafka are influences here, and you could reasonably argue that Ex Utero is nothing more than a politically correct rip-off of the former’s classic paranoid tale “The Nose” The more culturally hip might also point to that wretched piece of aural excrement by King Missile, “Detachable Penis,” and might notice how Rita and Adele’s flight from society towards the end resembles a similar trip taken on the big screen by Thelma and Louise. It’s true that there’s not much depth here, just a tweaking of our taboos and stereotypes.

But to say that would be to miss out on all the fun. There’s a public fury over the case (fueled by the opportunistic talk show host Rod Nodderman) that causes thousands of women to run and buy Rita’s trademark red high-heel shoes. There are thousands of men running around covering uncontrollable erections — which, come to think of it, is another rip-off, from Aristophanes’ classic Greek farce Lysistrata. And then there’s one of the most vile canine death scenes ever put to paper. (Hint: it involves Lucy’s incessant menstrual flow.)

Laurie Foos is hardly Sigmund Freud, and Ex Utero is a purely pop creation. But far be it from me to deny anyone the pleasure of reading this lightning-quick, chuckle-inducing mite of a book.

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