My friend Martha told me I had to read "Other Women's Children," the new novel by Perri Klass.
"You will love it," she said. "You will love Perri Klass - even if she does make the rest of us seem inadequate. Look at her! She's a pediatrician, she's a columnist, and now she writes this beautiful, beautiful book.""Maybe she's a terrible mother," I offered helpfully.
Martha just shook her head. "A terrible mother did not write this book. This book was written by somebody who really knows what it is to love a child."
Martha was right, I realized almost as soon as I had begun the book (which I went on to devour through the night). I can't think of another writer who comes close to capturing the feelings of love, who is so unembarrassed about explaining how totally a mother can love her children, as Klass.
"When I say I love my son . . . I can taste it in my mouth," the heroine, Amelia, says. And because she is a pediatrician who takes care of "Other Women's Children," she has a chance to see - and to record with respect - the love of other mothers, too.
Martha was right about the rest, too: Klass sounds pretty intimidating. After all, not only did she write this wonderful book, but she won three major writing awards before she entered Harvard - at 16.
At 27, she was the youngest columnist ever for The New York Times' Hers column, writing about a life that involved juggling medical school (Harvard again) and taking care of her son, now almost 7. Now the mother of a 1-year-old daughter as well, Klass, 32, has published two novels, a collection of short stories and a book of essays. And oh yes, she's doing a fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases, including AIDS.
Is it possible to like Superwoman?
On the phone, it is impossible not to. And please, she says, forget the Superwoman business. She doesn't know that person, either.
"I have a lot of trouble with that," said Klass. "The point of my life is not to make other people feel bad."
But if she is not Superwoman, how does she manage it - not even in terms of artistry, but just in terms of logistics? When does she find the time?
"People treat you like - `Oh, you, it's so easy for you, you dashed this off!' " Klass said. "Well, no! I have been writing this book on and off for five years, and I grudged every word! It took time when I would have done something else. Like slept. Or bathed.
"The time with your children is not the time that you spare. Everything else in your life takes second place to your kids. And that's OK, you chose that.
"But everybody who has kids needs to keep something for herself. For example, there are the people - whom I personally resent - who go to a gym.
"Well, writing is what I kept. It's portable, you can do it at home, it's not expensive."
Actually, given her early promise and her background (her mother, an English professor, is the author of nine books, one of which she finished on the day she gave birth to her daughter), it seems less surprising that Klass became a writer than that she became a doctor.
But she dismisses the idea.
"Medical school is hardly an original choice for people like me - you know, for girls who made good grades," she said.
"I don't think I am ferociously ambitious. I just want to do something useful and interesting. Besides, I don't think I am someone who could function well without a lot of structure in her life."
Klass, who comes from New York, now leads that structured life in Cambridge, Mass., where she lives with her children and their father, Larry Wolff, a history professor (and a writer, too).
But the joys of dull, everyday life in America today are not lost on Klass. Above all, she treasure the "ordinary" miracles of modern pediatrics - the vaccines and antibiotics that no one thinks twice about, that save children's lives.
A running theme in "Other People's Children" is Amelia's fascination with children's death scenes in old books - the Little Nells, the Little Evas, the Beth Marches, brought to literary life only to be (beautifully) killed off.
At the one hand, Amelia - and Klass - are appalled by these sentimental extravaganzas. On the other hand, they are awed by the terrible reality that inspired them, and by how different our world is.