While watching Election night coverage, a statement by ABC Political Commentator Matthew Dowd stuck with me. He said that one of the reasons the Republican Party was not triumphant during the last elections was because “they had Mad Men policies in a Modern Family world.” (He is of course referring to two of the most popular shows on the air) Politics aside, I think it is realistic to say that today’s families are more varied. Gone are the days when there is just one kind - nowadays they come in all kinds, colors, and permutations.
Pat is a textbook writer and his partner, Stu is a pilot. They have just moved from New York City to Pat’s childhood home in Cape Cod. It’s a perfect reboot for their relationship, which had gotten kind of rocky. And then they decide to have a child. And how? By looking for a surrogate mom to carry their baby. They place an ad on a website, and after a search, find a woman: Deborah, originally from Brasil, and with Jewish roots, something that is very important to Stu. It is also important that Stu become the biological father, as a way to continue their Jewish heritage. Deborah is married to Danny, and they have a child of their own, Paula. She agrees to have a baby with Pat and Stu because she wants to share her ability to become a mother with people. We see later on that there is more than meets the eye with these four people. There is so many more layers to the outline of this story.
This could have been a cute having-a-baby lighthearted story, and it would have been fine if it was, but The Paternity Test is much more than that. It is internal, told from Pat’s point of view, and becomes a serious personal tale. Lowenthal has a fine grasp of dialogue and details that makes these two couples three dimensional. These are all flawed characters and the flaws make their navigation with each others' emotions so real and touching. I love the little details he gives his characters. One that made me a smile is when Pat catches Stu putting just-used plates at the bottom of the pile. He asks him why he did that, and Stu answers that he imagines these plates having emotions, and he feels that the unused ones may feel hurt that they are not getting attention. I used to think the same way about my old CDs. I used to play all of them randomly sometimes because I used to think the unplayed ones would feel neglected.
Lowenthal has a gentle gift of surprise. Just when you think the story is turning one way, he will throw you a curve ball that changes the direction of the story. He does this several times so that you will feel emotionally invested in these characters, and the last quarter of the book, particularly, is such a page-turner. It is one of those books where you dread turning the page because you care so much about the characters and you become petrified to see the consequences of their actions. You think you would be taking one person’s side, but then you realize that hey, this one has has a point as well, or this one makes sense, too.
If anything, this book asks questions that really have no answers. What makes a parent? Is wanting to have a family enough of a reason to have one? Does a community define how a person should parent? Like all the variations of families, the answers to these questions differ. This story will make you think, it will make you reflect. There is no better testament to a great book.
Thanks to BookSparks PR for the book in exchange for an honest review.
Leonel Escota is a former New Yorker now living in Sin City. You can read his blog, which is all about entertainment (music, books, movies, theater, etc.)
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