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Jesse and Ramon are a loving couple, but after years spent unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant, they turn to adoption, relieved to think that once they navigate the bureaucratic path to parent-hood they will have a happy ending. But nothing has prepared them for the labyrinthine process--for the many training sessions and approvals; for the constant advice from friends, strangers, and "experts"; for the birthmothers who contact them but don't ultimately choose them; or even, most shockingly, for the women who call claiming they've chosen Jesse and Ramon but who turn out never to have been pregnant in the first place.
Jennifer Gilmore's eloquence about the human heart--its frailties and complexities--and her razor-sharp observations about race, class, culture, and changing family dynamics are spectacularly combined in this powerful novel. Suffused with passion and fury, "The Mothers "is a taut, gripping, and satisfying book that will stay with readers long after they turn the last page.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-02-04
- Reviewer: Staff
Gilmore’s third novel (after Something Red) is the heartfelt cry of a woman who desperately wants a baby. Jesse Wein-traub, a history professor in Manhattan, is postcancer and almost 40. After years of trying to get pregnant, she and husband Ramon Aragon pursue open adoption. The chronicle of their 10-year marriage, forged when Jewish Jesse met Spanish-Italian Ramon in Italy, is a paradoxical tale of marital love surmounting cultural and religious differences and then veering into obsessive desperation. The torturous bureaucracy of adoption results in heartbreak, as prospective birthmothers lead Jesse and Ramon through a litany of scams. Gilmore doesn’t spare her heroine; Jesse is angry, bitter, resentful, abrasive, panicked, and acerbically funny. She hates Ramon’s possessive Italian mother, resents her own mother for the career that included extensive travel and little time for mothering, is jealous of friends who conceive easily, and is stunned when her estranged sister rejoins the family, unwed but pregnant. Throughout, Jesse muses on the essence of motherhood—and on how the biological clock can be challenged by circumstances. Though often painful to read, this candid account at once embraces “the possibility for anything” and seems to set up a happy resolution for Jesse and Ramon. Agent: Clay Ezell, ICM. (Apr. 9)
Moms in fiction: The perils of parenting
Every woman facing motherhood asks herself a million different questions: Who will I become after having children? What if I never have children? How will life change after a baby arrives? As Mother’s Day nears, two novels offer very different portraits of motherhood, allowing readers to see themselves reflected in these honest and moving stories.
The Sunshine When She’s Gone, Thea Goodman’s debut novel, explores what happens when everything in life is suddenly divided into “before” and “after.” The big event? Having a baby.
When Dad bundles up the baby for an early morning walk, an impulsive whim takes him to the airport and onto a plane bound for Barbados. It’s a rash decision compelled by his desire for his wife of “before” to reappear—maybe rest will do the trick? As a father who “had never done anything without first asking [his wife] Veronica” struggles with a sick baby and a search for a complicated goat-milk formula, he begins to better understand his overwhelmed, overtired wife.
Meanwhile the new mom finds herself unexpectedly free from child and husband for a weekend—an eternity!—and she revisits the woman she was before becoming consumed with naptimes and nursing. But her impulsive actions take her down a path as misguided as her husband’s.
This dreamlike story is told from the alternating points of view of the young couple, whose life-altering decisions can only be attributed to sleep deprivation. You may laugh at their absurdity, but author Goodman brings compassion and humor to the domestic struggles of new parents trying to come to terms with the changes to themselves, their spouses and their marriage “after baby.”
Told with brave humor by acclaimed author Jennifer Gilmore, The Mothers is the raw story of one couple’s seemingly endless journey to become parents.
After abandoning IVF attempts, Jesse and Ramon decide to pursue domestic open adoption. And the process is bureaucratic, baffling and often heartbreaking.
The author, who wrote about her personal struggle to adopt a child in Vogue, said she turned to fiction to make the process “interesting instead of just emotionally devastating.” And she succeeds. Both brutally funny and honest, Gilmore confronts Jesse’s “obscene wanting” for a child: The hope that never ends. The anger, self-pity and panic. When friends try to tell her that motherhood “doesn’t solve everything,” it does nothing to diminish her need. Yes, Jesse is stubborn, but Gilmore gives her compassion and optimism, even as her world is reduced to pregnant bellies and babies that can’t be escaped.
The path to adoption forces Jesse and Ramon to confront issues of race, drug use and mental illness. It exacts an unknown toll on their marriage even as they forge unlikely friendships with other prospective parents. The process becomes even more tortured when Jesse attempts to build relationships with the birth mothers. She talks for hours with women who may or may not “choose” them—and who might not even be pregnant!
The novel is filled with such keen insight that the ending of this intimate ride is abrupt. Perhaps the author, who hasn’t reached the end of her own story, can’t quite give it to her characters either.