In publishing, landing a spot on the “Today” show has traditionally been thought of as a publicity holy grail. Is that why Benjamin Percy wore a pregnancy suit to get there? And did he have any idea just how strange the experience would be?
Not wearing the pregnancy suit for nine weeks -- trying to talk to Steve Harvey. Harvey gets so discombobulated that, apropos of nothing, he asks Percy if he’s ever bitten a man.
Percy does have one of the most arresting voices in contemporary American letters. He’s also known for writing fiction with a specifically manly bent, like “The Wilding,” which is about three generations of men in one family who go on a hunting trip. So imagining him walking around as a pregnant woman does present a little cognitive dissonance.
He committed to a simulated mini-pregnancy, wearing a high-tech pregnancy suit made in Japan that got bigger each trimester. “It looks a little like a flak jacket,” Percy writes, describing his mommy-gear in militaristic terms. A chronicle of his experience -- which included shopping, attending public events, and getting a sweaty rash -- appears in this month’s GQ.
Here’s how he describes the idea in the magazine: “No one has bought me the World’s Greatest Father coffee mug yet, and I don’t deserve one. I’m crabby. I’m impatient. I wear skull T-shirts. I kind of look forward to my children growing old enough to walk twenty yards ahead of me in the mall and pretend I don’t exist. But male empathy— at least among the co-op-shopping, NPR-listening crowd—seems never to have been greater. And when I see a man coaching in the junior soccer league, or watching his kids for the week while his wife travels for business, or shopping for groceries while patiently playing spelling games with his 5-year-old, I know I should do better.”
On the “Today” show, Harvey wants to know why. “You wanted to accomplish what by doing this?” he asks.
“To make up for my mouth-breathing, hairy-chested, caveman deficiencies,” Percy explains. There’s a pause, and he grins as there’s a burst of laughter from off camera.
Harvey doesn’t laugh.
Things continue to get awkward. Percy doesn’t get a chance to mention his nothing-to-do-with-pregnancy novel, “Red Moon,” coming in May from Grand Central. I haven’t read it, but John Irving blurbs it this way: “Red Moon is a serious, politically symbolic novel -- a literary novel about lycanthropes. If George Orwell had imagined a future where the werewolf population had grown to the degree that they were colonized and drugged, this terrifying novel might be it.”