Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: Expecting

By Jami Deise

Pregnancy stories are a staple in women’s fiction, and with good reason: While most women eventually become mothers, every pregnancy and delivery story is unique. “Tell me your labor story,” is a request many new mothers hear over and over again. For Laurie Gaines, however, her labor story could take up an entire book. In fact, it does.

In Ann Lewis Hamilton’s novel, Expecting, Laurie and her husband Alan never expected having a baby to be quite so difficult. But after two heartbreaking miscarriages, they consult a fertility specialist who recommends IUI – intrauterine insemination. And the third time’s the charm – Laurie gets pregnant again, and this time the pregnancy keeps. But when Laurie’s almost completed her first trimester, she gets a call from the fertility clinic that no one wants to hear – a disgruntled tech had thrown Alan’s sperm sample away. Laurie was inseminated with sperm belonging to an Indian-American college senior named Jack. Now what?
Now what is the question asked by all three players in this story, as it is told from the points of view of Laurie, Alan and Jack. Laurie understands her husband’s mixed feelings, but she’s already completely bonded with her baby and believes the best solution is to get to know Jack. Jack is already under enormous pressure from parents who constantly compare him to his doctor older sister, not to mention juggling two girlfriends and trying to graduate after changing his major – again – at the very last minute. And Alan copes by throwing himself into his job and secret Facebook conversations with his old college girlfriend.

The biggest surprise I found in Expecting was how the writer made me sympathize with Alan, the ostensible villain of the piece. Ordinarily, novels that feature husbands having physical or emotional affairs while their wives are pregnant tend to be rather one-sided, but Hamilton took care to communicate how Alan’s turmoil, his inability to fully share his feelings with his wife, and the decision to keep quiet about the baby’s origins prompted his actions.

The novel begins as Laurie goes into labor, and then backtracks to Laurie and Alan’s first pregnancy, proceeding linearly from there. This worked very well (I usually feel this type of beginning is a cheat) as the dialogue and character actions seem completely out of place for the situation, and gets the reader guessing right away what might have led up to this scene. For the record, I guessed wrong.

There are some funny bits, and certainly the overall situation is comedic, but the book has its dramatic moments as well. Certainly there’s no shying away from the pain of pregnancy loss, and in the reader notes Hamilton is open about the fact that the story is somewhat based on her own life. (The sperm mix-up, thank goodness, is completely a figment of her imagination.)

Hamilton is an experienced TV writer, but Expecting is her first novel. However, her expertise shines through. Another interesting note is that the book began as a short story, and she expanded it into a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month, an annual event every November. NaNoWriMo encourages participants to write at least 1667 words a day, in order to have a finished (albeit raw) 50,000 word novel by December first. Expecting should be the poster child for this project, and if you’re participating, take a few hours off and read it. You’ll be both inspired and humbled.

Thanks to Julia Drake Public Relations for the book in exchange for an honest review.