Rogers, Joseph, 1959—
“Big Baby Blues: A Memoir.”
1. Relationships—man-woman. 2. Infertility. 3. Infidelity. 4. Would-be novelists—U.S.
5. Men—scared, pathetic I. Title.
- In the Cannon Beach wedding scene, Joseph is already foreshadowing not-so-happy endings. “We kissed. Everyone released colorful kites into the sky, the wind taking them where it wanted. None of the barefoot guests knew how to operate a kite but they steered with those attached strings nonetheless. Soon one kite would wind up all tangled together with another and both would dive urgently into the sand” (p. 41). How does Joseph ever expect things to work out if he’s going to be such a melodramatic something-something his whole life? Discuss.
- When Joseph chokes on a multivitamin and almost dies right there on the blue linoleum floor of the kitchen, why do you think he has such a mental battle over whether or not to tell Kate? “With each moment that passed I questioned my motives for telling her more and more. What response was I looking for anyway?” (p. 73). Does the fact that we’re subjected to the psychological back-and-forth of this decision for the better part of twenty pages begin to grate on you after a while? Are we really to believe that this serves as some sort of turning point, some kind of catalyst for the despicable acts that Joseph undertakes in subsequent chapters? We get it. We’re all going to die someday. Does that mean we should sneak around trying to bed everything that can’t run away (and keep track of the “stats” in a spiral bound notebook we hide in our laptop bag)?
- It’s clear (painfully so) Joseph feels some guilt that Kate’s out there working a nine-to-five while he continues to tinker and tinker in the hopes of, what, turning a steaming pile into the great American novel? “It was always just a matter of time before words on the screen became merely black markings on white background. Soon the idea that black markings could possess any meaning at all would become more and more absurd until it seemed a goddamn miracle anyone’s ever gotten anything from them” (p. 97). Do you almost think it’d be better if Joseph never had that story picked up by The Atlantic? You sure get the feeling that’s what’s keeping him going. Potential, potential, potential—ever hear of a fluke? A freak accident?
- Here’s Joseph’s description of Kate from page 122: “There she was in the doorway; it was one of five evenings in a week. She was a little winded from the stairs. Handsome. Her face pulling down, her desk days, her forty hours, but handsome. Not unhandsome. Her smell was administrative, the vague whiff of carpeting and microwave popcorn, of ink and metal. Her hair short now, cropped. Her breasts beneath a silk blouse, gravity stealing them more and more, one nipple popping through, the other not to be bothered.” How do you think Kate would have described him? Sitting there in the kitchen in his bathrobe, dried up teabags sticking to the tabletop, the apartment a pigsty and him not lifting finger number one to so much as straighten up. Throw in a load of laundry? Ha! Five, six, seven o’clock shadow, hair greased days beyond artistically unkempt. Staring at that f’ing laptop, tap-tapping keys, cutting and pasting, deleting, cursing, giving up, starting again. Enough already! Discuss.
- Name some redemptive characteristics about Joseph. Is it difficult to find many? How does this affect your reading?
- When Joseph finds out in Chapter 8 that he’s shooting blanks, he decides to keep this fact from Kate. Informs us he thinks Kate senses he’s lied about (and in fact forged) test results. How do you understand his motives for secrecy? What would you have done in his place? The chapter concludes with a long soliloquy, which finally winds up with his telling us he “could see that Kate was beginning to notice men, real men; men who weren’t little boys in disguise; men who owned suits; men who belonged to the gym; men who understood tools of all kinds; men who wore watches; men who could light fires; men who weren’t afraid of the dark, of heights, of dogs, birds, small mammals; who weren’t afraid of failure, who weren’t afraid of success. Men who could likely shoot their ejaculate far, far, maybe far enough inside her to make a difference.” Is Joseph’s solemnity convincing? At this point, did you think he was merely imagining Kate’s behavior?
- How do you interpret the dream that Joseph relates in Chapter 9? Yeah, no mystery there, huh? Watching as one by one his past sexual conquests enter stage left, sit in a spotlit chair, ridicule, and eventually dismiss him, and then exit stage right to make room for the next. Why do you think in the dream Joseph was watching this on TV? Were you surprised when he saw himself on the screen, lurking in the shadows of the stage? He says he was “shocked to look down and find a steak knife in my hand, and even more shocked by what I would do next” (p. 184). Were you surprised to learn that Joseph was capable of throat slitting, dream or no dream?
- Don’t you think the scene where Joseph burns his notebook o’ conquests is a little overwrought? And so, what, he’s suddenly a new man?
- At what point did you start thinking hey, what’s with this Kate chick anyway? Why would she sell herself short and allow that yahoo’s exploits to go on for the better part of a year without saying word one? Ah, but then it dawned on you, perhaps, that she too was getting some on the side and thinking, Why bother? That one didn’t occur to old Joseph, though, for some time, did it?
- Dawned on him rather suddenly, as a matter of fact. How did you feel about the climactic scene at the kitchen table? Steak dinner, wine, candles, the whole bit. Joseph ready to start anew. Even writes a little poem, similarly themed, that he plans to recite after dinner. He really toys with you by dwelling on that steak knife as he sets the table, huh. Kind of sets you up a bit. And when he and Kate sit down they have one of those things where both of them go to speak at the same time. No you first. No you. Pretty cliché. “I had no idea what she was going to say. I honestly didn’t see it coming.” Bet you knew what Kate was going to say though. Kind of had a feeling, didn’t you? ” ‘I’m pregnant,’ she said, and she took a sip of wine. I watched her throat work it down. And then my eyes went to the knife beside her plate.” (p. 222). Did you actually think he was going to do it? And why her knife? What, he couldn’t even do it with his own knife? His “knife” not good enough? Are we getting some symbolism here?
- And so with Chapter 10 we leap ahead two years. Still no novel, by the way. “People were always telling me the kid had my eyes; big baby blues” (p. 240). A pun! Joseph goes on to describe “the pitter-patter of little footsteps down the hall” and concludes the chapter by telling us, “I felt like there was a tiny stranger running around in the apartment” (p. 243). Discuss.
- A few updates in the epilogue. Joseph eventually comes clean about his infertility, and Kate admits that she’s known all along. What are some possible reasons, then, for Kate’s actions? Don’t these two just deserve each other? Joseph does make sure to tell us he’s “grown to love the child as if he were my own,” blah, blah, blah (p. 252). Poor kid. Sure hard to believe desperation could plunge someone to this, but there it is. Fear. Of what though? What is Joseph so afraid of?