The author of Never Coming Back (2017) and Shadow Baby (2000) takes on reproductive freedom—and a lot more—in her new book.
The reader learns two things about this novel’s protagonist at the outset. One is that Mallie Williams has been in a coma for months and months. The second is that she’s pregnant. From that arresting opening, the story jumps ahead to the moment when, a year and a half after having been raped and beaten, Mallie wakes. She struggles to deal with the knowledge that she has given birth to a child she would not have chosen to keep had she been capable of making decisions for herself. In alternating chapters, we follow William T., a neighbor who has been like a father to Mallie since her own father died. And when Mallie decides to create an identity and a narrative for the unknown assailant who almost killed her, we see that, too. Through William T.’s recollections and newspaper clippings, we learn how Mallie’s body became a battleground for the friends and family members who were certain that she would have wanted an abortion and her mother, whose faith makes abortion anathema. McGhee handles this conflict with considerable care and without taking sides. But this novel is about much more than a divisive issue. The courtroom drama and the media frenzy take place, for the most part, offstage. This is, at its heart, a novel about family—including chosen family—autonomy, and identity. While most of the novel’s characters are carefully drawn, Mallie’s mother remains an enigma. She never has the chance to speak for herself, and, without understanding her motivations, some of her choices seem more convenient than believable. Also, it’s noticeably odd that Mallie seems to have no friends outside of William T., his girlfriend, and another older neighbor. The only peer with whom this young woman seems to have any connection is her boyfriend.
Thoughtful and moving.