Monday, May 16, 2016
Abby Roberts is rehearsing her line as she awaits her husband’s arrival home from work. She’s about to tell him she wants a divorce, not because she doesn’t love him anymore, but because the most important thing in the world to her is having children; she has had three miscarriages. Her husband is sympathetic, but with each miscarriage, he cools more to the idea of being a father, and finally admits he is opposed to adoption or pursuit of some sort of medical solution to their failed attempts. When Abby goes to the family doctor to try to understand why she is not getting pregnant again, she is shocked to find out that her husband has had a secret vasectomy. So, all of her careful planning, the lovemaking at just the right times of the month have been a joke. And then when she does announces to her husband her desire for a divorce, he drops dead from a massive heart attack, not from the shock of his wife’s request, but simply because his heart has given out.
So begins this novel of love and loss. In the midst of her grieving over the death of her husband and her dreams of having a family with him, she discovers that her husband was married before, and not only married, but that he had a son with his previous wife. So the man who has told her he thinks he is not suited for fatherhood, in fact already has a son, a family he has left behind. Driven as much by curiosity as rage, she goes to the home of her husband’s ex-wife and there meets his beautiful son Matty. Fern, Matty’s mother, is less than happy that this new wife shows up on her doorstep. She is a bus-driver who from one month to the next is not sure she can make her mortgage payment and put food on the table for Matty and his paternal grandfather, who has chosen Fern and Matty over his own son when the son chooses to leave his wife and son.
I’ll try not to give away too much of this story, although it is the story of Fern and Abby, and what Fern sees as Abby’s attempt to steal from Fern her son, or, at any rate, to infiltrate her family, that occupies the rest of the book. It is a book that is profound not for its philosophical or political insights, but because of its close look at family and of the ones who matter most.
Abby offers her husband’s insurance money to Fern, but Fern is offended by the offer, sees it as an attempt to buy her way into Fern’s family. To make matters worse, Fern’s brother meets Matty, and they have an instant attraction for one another. So, thinks Fern, not only does she want my son, she wants my brother as well. She wants my family, and she can’t have it.
Perhaps parts of this complicated story of love and family stretch the reader’s credulity, but in the end I felt it to be a lovely story of the redemptive power of love. The women characters are strong and drawn convincingly. Each of Abby’s attempts to help Fern and to get closer to Matty has some sort of disastrous consequence for Fern, leading finally to her losing her job as bus driver and her ability to provide for her family.
What shines through in the novel is the intense power of mother love and the healing power of family. Perhaps I will not be giving away too much if I tell you that Fern and Abby finally manage to cobble together a new and very different kind of family. I don’t think it hurts to know sometimes that a novel is going to have a happy ending, especially since so many novels are so emotionally painful to read.
And that’s probably enough. I suppose this is an overly sentimental story, but one that appealed to me a lot, and also one that will give you a couple of days of interesting reading and a good feeling inside.