This sprawling novel tells the stories of three small-town women who must get abortions in the midst of a pro-life protest and local controversy.
Ormsby, a freelance journalist, makes her first foray into fiction with this realist debut. The plot revolves around the citizens of the small, normally sleepy town of Litchfield, N.J., focusing on three very different women with the same difficult choice ahead of them. Clara Mahoney is a teenager who gets pregnant after an older man drunkenly takes advantage of her. Pia Fernandez is a working-class woman trying to survive her husband’s abuse. Loren Elliott, a middle-class mother, unexpectedly finds out that she’s having another baby just as her husband is laid off. These three stories serve as the focal point for a much larger plot that encompasses local politicians, journalists and clergy, all of whom react differently to a pro-life demonstration in town that brings the conflicts to a head. Ormsby has a wonderful eye for character and detail, as she fleshes out a keenly observed portrayal of small-town life. Clearly she feels very strongly about the issue of abortion and a woman’s right to choose. She seems to be trying to use the three central characters to craft a larger, moralistic and slightly didactic plot à la George Eliot or The Wire. Unfortunately, the novel could have used another edit or two; at 448 pages, there are simply too many characters. Even though many of them are well-developed—in particular, there’s an abundance of strong women—there are too many side plots and characters to keep the story going smoothly. Clara’s plot in particular is disturbing in ways that may not be what Ormsby intended: Her assailant seems to have a creepy, inappropriate crush on her, and it’s unclear how the novel wants to treat his feelings. The novel also ends abruptly, essentially at its climax, with no real denouement. After all those pages, most of the numerous plots are left dangling in an unsatisfying way. Still, in the end, this uneven but enjoyable read tells an important, timely story.
A flawed but moving novel about a vital contemporary social issue.