Pregnancy has long been romanticized in popular culture, with decades of images of expectant mothers gliding happily through their days with little change outside of their wardrobe required of them. Recent media has gone some way towards showing the harsher reality of just how difficult the experience can be, but it still generally glosses over the worst parts. Not so in Delicate Condition, the adult debut by YA author Danielle Valentine. Here, she uses the trappings of a paranoid horror story to bring to light the myriad traumas women can experience at every step of the process of creating life, and the ways in which those charged with guiding them along the path can so thoughtlessly cast their concerns aside.
Struggling actress Anna Alcott hadn’t thought herself the type to want children until one day she found that she was. Of course, it takes more than a desire to be a mother to become one, and she has been struggling to conceive with her husband, Dex. Now suffering through rounds of IVF while also experiencing a late career breakthrough due to critical acclaim for her role in a small indie film, she begins to notice odd occurrences and suspicious people around her and can’t help but wonder if perhaps someone is trying to prevent her from giving birth. Of course, no one believes her, not even Dex, but she becomes more and more convinced that she’s right.
That Winter she heads into hiding at a friend’s home in the Hamptons, with her husband and new bodyguard in tow. While there, she suffers a traumatic miscarriage, the cause of which can’t be explained though a suspicious woman was inside the hospital before it occurred. Now despondent, Anna heads back into hiding, only to then feel symptoms that she might still be pregnant after all. Her situation becomes increasingly strange as she continues to be disbelieved, and she fights to determine what is happening to her and to her possibly still-present baby.
This is a harrowing read, that continually layers on the tension to almost unbearable levels. Those who’ve experienced pregnancy for themselves will likely find the book especially relatable, but many of us can understand the feeling of being dismissed despite knowing that something is wrong. This is easily one of the scarier novels I’ve read in some time while also a searing indictment of our current healthcare system, in particular in the ways it ignores women’s suffering. The author doesn’t pull any punches, so those with traumas around pregnancy should probably steer clear, but for everyone else this will easily rank as one of the best horror novels of the year. ★★★★★
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor