The prolific science-fiction and YA author takes a respite from Dingillian family strife (Bouncing Off the Moon, 2001) with a hasty, jokey, and very personal account of a middle-aged gay man’s adoption of a high-risk eight-year-old boy.
Chatty and given to cornball humor and fits of sudden weeping, Northridge, California, resident Gerrold recounts his attempts to adopt a child alone—from feeling unnerved that he himself is regarded as second-rate as a potential parent to the daunting afflictions—hyperactivity, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome—that most of the “special-needs” children come saddled with. Dennis is the boy David chooses, mostly because he’s the only white child available and the county doesn’t promote cross-racial matchups, but also because Gerrold has a “feeling.” Although the boy is deemed unable to form a lasting attachment (read: is unadoptable), Gerrold wants him and proceeds to examine minutely why he shouldn’t have him, which the reader never stops wondering either. Is it selfish vanity on Gerrold’s part, or is it just that no one else wants the child and Gerrold won’t let him down? Once united, the two get along swimmingly, and the story becomes a happy snapshot of David’s enchantment with their routine together—until Dennis reasserts the notion that he’s been planted by Martians, leaving Gerrold to wonder whether it could be true and how he ought to investigate. An earthquake and the death of the family dog unsettle Dennis and provoke him to act out, testing his new daddy’s limits and patience. Throughout, meanwhile, The Martian Child reads like a fast-written magazine article with lots of quotes and one-sentence paragraphs, and the fact that Gerrold is a writer constructing a narrative is reaffirmed constantly, with the result that the reader can’t shed the uncomfortable notion that Dennis is being manipulated as fodder for a good story.
And yet: neurotically charming and funny, the adopted single dad still wins our sympathy.