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Discussion Guide

Flesh & Blood: Reflections on Infertility, Family, and Creating a Bountiful Life: A Memoir

By N. West Moss

“I drive and say to myself, if I am dying, if this is how I die, then this is how I die.” When N. West Moss finds herself bleeding uncontrollably in the middle of a writing class, she drives herself to the hospital. Doctors are baffled, but eventually a diagnosis—hemangioma—is determined and a hysterectomy is scheduled. We follow Moss through her surgery, complications, and recovery as her thoughts turn to her previous struggles with infertility, to grief and healing, to what it means to leave a legacy.

Moss’s wise, droll voice and limitless curiosity lift this beautiful memoir beyond any narrow focus. Among her interests: yellow fever, good cocktails, the history of New Orleans, and, always, the natural world, including the praying mantis in her sunroom whom she names Claude. And we learn about the inspiring women in Moss’s family—her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother—as she sorts out her feeling that this line will end with her. But Moss discovers that there are other ways besides having children to make a mark, and that grief is not a stopping place but a companion that travels along with us through everything, even happiness.

With public figures like Chrissy Teigen and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, speaking out about infertility recently, women are eager for voices that acknowledge their struggles. Fans of Lena Dunham, Leslie Jamison, and Jenny Lawson—along with readers of medical memoirs like When Breath Becomes Air and The Bright Hour—will find that connection in Moss’s Flesh & Blood.

 

This discussion guide and recommended reading was shared and sponsored in partnership with Algonquin. 

Discussion Questions

Use these discussion questions to guide your next book club meeting.

For millennia, women have been defined by their fertility. How do you think that history affects the author’s view of herself and her illness?
While the author is a private person, and our society has not often openly discussed miscarriage, hysterectomy, and infertility, we see her slowly sharing her experiences with her friends, and then even writing this book. What changed for the author? What does Moss gain by opening up? Have you shared your experience in similar situations?
Despite the serious subject matter of the book, the author uses humor throughout. What effect does that have and how does she use humor to help navigate her illness?

“An engaging, even charming memoir . . . It feels like Moss is taking our hands and allowing us to accompany her on this journey. Her careful, lovely sentences and good-humored and thoughtful observations seem to be . . . part of her healing . . . This inviting memoir lights a path through grief and illness.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Moss’s meditations on questions her experience have raised are full of calm maturity and quiet humor and give this book an appeal beyond its expected audience . . . Moss’s contemplations on life in general will resonate with women who are seeking peace and meaning in their own lives.”
Library Journal

Flesh & Blood sparks and consoles. So frank and warm and full of humor, this book became a friend to me. I want to keep its tenderness and stunning wisdom always as my guide.”
Jackie Polzin, author of Brood
 
“N. West Moss is an exemplary talent. The words come alive on the page. You feel as though you are living inside this luminous book.” 

Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels

 “N. West Moss doesn't romanticize our world; she loves it honestly, in all its messiness. As I read Flesh & Blood I saw not only that world but also the human body anew. This memoir is a tender, elegant, wry meditation on being a woman, being sick, and recovering; on reading and nature; on loving foremothers and rendering them into history with word rather than womb."
V.V. Ganeshananthan, co-host, "Fiction/Non/Fiction" podcast, Literary Hub, and author of Love Marriage