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by Ann Hood

Pub Date: May 3rd, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-393-07020-0
Publisher: Norton

A group of Americans plan to adopt daughters from China through an agency founded by a bereaved mother, in Hood’s moving novel (The Knitting Circle, 2007, etc.).

Maya walked away from her husband Adam and her formerly happy life in Hawaii after the accidental death of her infant daughter left her in emotional freefall. (The exact circumstances surrounding the accident are not revealed until halfway through the novel.) In part to assuage her anguish, Maya started The Red Thread Adoption Agency, referring to a Chinese saying that a red thread connects people destined to be together. Operating out of Providence, R.I., Maya conducts her latest orientation of a group of couples embarking on the yearlong (or more) process of adopting abandoned Chinese girl babies. Without exception, the wives initiate the adoptions. Theo is bored by ovulation-driven sex with wife Sophie and, still a globetrotting beach bum at heart, views children only as a threat to freedom. Emily, whose efforts to win over her teenage stepdaughter Chloe have netted rejection, unwittingly abetted by her husband Michael, seeks family equilibrium. Nell and Benjamin Walker-Adams, New England aristocrats (he’s descended from John Adams) have given up on Nell’s mood-bending fertility treatments, but she’s experiencing the most untrammeled baby-lust of her charmed life. Brooke, married to ex–Major Leaguer Charlie, yearns to fill the void left by her sterility, but Charlie thinks three’s a crowd, until suddenly their attitudes reverse. Susannah, ambivalent about and vaguely shamed by the retarded daughter her husband Carter adores, wants a “normal” child. Interspersed throughout are italicized vignettes about Chinese mothers forced by the quota on children and prejudice against girls to make wrenching decisions.

The raw and riveting Chinese stories siphon narrative juice from the more conventional American angst that dominates the novel. Still, the tale ends with a pleasing sense that the red thread is more than a myth, especially in Maya’s case.