Glib exploration of international adoption.
Shelley and Martin run a funeral home in the South, but they are an affable, even a life-affirming pair. They have a comfortable marriage, a wide circle of friends and a tender, respectful relationship. Martin has two grown sons from a previous marriage, and despite Shelley’s affection for them, she wants a baby of her own. The book opens just as Shelley and Martin discover that the international adoption they have been waiting for has fallen through, an event that prompts Martin to change his mind about the whole business. When Shelley gets a call about a Vietnamese boy who is ready to be adopted, Martin refuses to help his wife and moves out of the house. Shelley, a buoyant character even when she is grieving, gives herself a crash course in Vietnamese culture, befriending Xuan Mai, the owner of a local Asian food store. Although Shelley’s ham-handed attempts to bond with an authentic Vietnamese person annoy her, Mai travels to Vietnam with Shelley to help her with the baby. Here, though, the novel breaks down, for Vietnam simultaneously provokes and redresses all of the characters’ most deeply felt traumas. Martin served in Vietnam during the war, and fears revisiting his bleakest emotional crises. Mai did something horrible to her family, and fled Vietnam, never to return. Shelley, of course, finds in Vietnam the very child for whom she is willing to sacrifice her family. The novel is very earnest, and it weaves together these plots very carefully. But there is something in the breezy tone of the book that ignores the messy, unpredictable sequence of cause and effect that it seems to wish to explore in the first place. By the time the various plots are all sewn up—unsurprisingly, every crisis has a pat solution—the book has veered dangerously close to fatuousness.
Facile treatment of a difficult subject.