The Goo Goo Thing

In part, he succeeds by cheating: The first part of the book is less about child-rearing than it is about

In part, he succeeds by cheating: The first part of the book is less about child-rearing than it is about Paris, where Mr. Lewis and his wife, the former MTV News reporter Tabitha Soren, and their infant daughter set up shop in an effort to fulfill a wish to live abroad before multiple childbirths permanently foreclose the opportunity for them to do so. So, see, it’s about their experiences with their baby daughter, Quinn, but really, the joke is on the French.

Like, for example, when they sign Quinn up for a mysterious water-acclimatization program called Bébé L’Eau, only to find that the “class” consists of a dozen unhygienic Frenchmen, with their unhygienic kids, in an oversize Jacuzzi, led by a buffoonish instructor “in a snorkel and a mask and not much else.”

(“It is no accident that Jacques Cousteau was French. The French know how to find categories ignored by the rest of the world and colonize them. Here at Bébé L’Eau was another example: baby dunking.” Etc.)

Mr. Lewis does the standard parent-book set pieces competently, too. Back in America, after the birth of his second daughter, Dixie, he describes his attempt—at first disingenuous, then less so—to “validate” his first daughter’s feelings of sibling jealousy:

“I was stumped. I couldn’t think of what to say next. All I could think of was: Of course you hate Dixie. She has taken Mama away. I’d hate her, too, if I were you. Truth is, a tiny part of me was proud that she saw the situation for what it was, a violation of her property rights. It boded well for her future in the free market.”

There is also drama.

Mr. Lewis presents a harrowing description of his wife in the throes of postpartum panic disorder after the birth of their third, final child, and only boy, Walker.

Later, he bonds with the 11-week-old Walker, who comes down with a serious virus, by barricading both of them in a hospital room to guard against the predations of bill collectors and curious interns and bored nurses.

It’s a nice book, full of nicely told stories, the least interesting of which deal with the actual moments of birth. (What else can anyone say about this? Mom in more pain than expected, Dad charmingly useless, push, push, baby.)

But that’s kind of the thing: It’s just the subject matter. You can really like Mr. Lewis—I do—and still get the impression that he really labored to make this book into something that’s worth the effort for people not named Michael Lewis to purchase and read.

 

FROM THE consumer point of view, Home Game is a considerably cheaper commodity than his other books, like Liar’s Poker and Moneyball and The Blind Side, and even his forgettable-but-important-seeming-at-the-time book about the guy who founded Netscape. They were all reported documents that were great first and foremost because of his extraordinary access to something that his readers wouldn’t otherwise have had a clue about.

Home Game, by definition, is not that sort of undertaking. It is merely something that Michael Lewis was able to put together as he was going about his business at home.

Near the end of the book, after Mr. Lewis sees to it that he and Tabitha will never have any more children, he writes about trying to decide whether the time had come to stop writing about Quinn, Dixie and Walker.

“Like dreams, these fatherhood moments are easily forgotten and no doubt also a lot more interesting to the teller than to anyone else. But when they’re forgotten, their lessons, such as they are, are lost. The vacuum winds up being filled by experts on child rearing, and books on fatherhood, and social counselors and psychiatrists—the outside world has a lot to tell you about how to be a father and how to raise your children, and its advice no doubt serves some purpose.”

No doubt.

Josh Benson is political editor of The Observer. He can be reached at jbenson@observer.com

The Goo Goo Thing