I read this book as a part of The Literary Others October LGBT History event. I received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley and the response below is my honest opinion and I received no compensation.
This book did not get off to a good start with me; ending your first chapter referring to the potential birth mother of your child as just ‘the womb’ really bothered me. I felt it was incredibly misogynistic, an accusation two of the main characters made towards each other later in the book, but I also felt it was too jarring in the beginning of the story and put me on edge for the rest of the story.
I do feel that Lowenthal developed the characters further than that first chapter gave them credit, both male and female characters, but that really put me on edge and made it difficult to identify with and feel sympathy for Pat and Stu. But, if there is one thing he did do great it was the personality quirks of all the characters. From describing Deborah’s exotic Brazilian Portuguese accent to the adorable story about Pat and Stu when they moved into their first place together and stacked plates the same way for the same reason.
Overall, I don’t think there was anything too earth-shattering in the style or the story. But, Lowenthal definitely redeemed himself with the ending. He could have taken the easy way out, but he didn’t and actually added a twist which perked my interest back up and made me desperately read the last few pages to see how the story ended. And although it wasn’t the happy ending I long for in most LGBT novels, it was a happy enough ending for me.
The Literary Others Synthesis
(SPOILER ALERT – Some plot details revealed in this final section.)
As with the last novel I read for this blogging event, two things struck me in this novel. The first, again, was a character’s sexuality (or perceived sexuality) and the second was the intersection of religion and sexuality.
The main character Pat has had relationships with women; he’s in a long-term relationship with men; he identifies as gay. However, as i mentioned last review, sexuality isn’t that simple or clear-cut and I think Lowenthal has done a great job of showing this. It’s not worth going into the psychology of the character, but Pat’s falling in love (or was it lust? or both? or what about situational heterosexuality?) with their surrogate, Deborah, and the resulting affair were a different twist. I felt for sure the paternity test from the title would come up, but that’s the heart-wrenching twist.
The religion, sexuality and I should say gender aspect was, perhaps, more interesting as it didn’t focus primarily with LGBT characters. The major religion and sexuality conflict was between Stu’s sister and her husband and their striving to adopt a child and how that child will be Jewish. Now this is tangentially connected to Pat dropping the bomb that he and Stu are trying to have a baby – which then immediately shows the inherent heterosexist and homophobic values of Stu’s father, but I honestly thought it took a backseat. I can’t even begin to enunciate my thoughts on this, but suffice to say that between the explanations of why a child from an unwed Jewish mother was worse than a non-Jewish child converted without their consent were enough to make my stomach churn.
It also brought up questions about fertility and marriage – is a woman a woman if she can’t have kids? What about in a religious context? And what about divorce – I saw this interesting article titled Jews complain gay weddings are more fair than straight ones (it’s from the New York Post so take it for what you think it’s worth) which was an interesting read. Basically, the novel brought up a lot of intricately entwined social issues which i think are important to discuss and keep in mind even when you’re reading fiction, but perhaps more so in contemporary LGBT fiction.
Recommendation: Give it a go. Don’t focus too much on that one bit like I did and you’ll be alright. I should also note, a local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith, hosted a talk by Lowenthal and I’m glad i didn’t go because i hadn’t read the book yet but it would’ve been interesting to hear his perspective on some of these things.
Opening Line: “‘It’s not too late,’ I said. ‘You could still change your mind.'”
Closing Line: “She tells the driver, who hits the gas—sand spits from the tires—and oh! Here they go! They’re flying!” (Whited out.)