Richmond (Some Other Time, 2009) raises questions about motherhood in a novel about a woman who has a baby via gamete donation.
After nine failed attempts at conceiving a child on her own, Karen Haskins decides to use her sister Patty’s eggs and a sperm donor to do so. However, single mother Karen later has difficulties raising the baby, Dawn, and she relies on Patty, who has her own family, for help. After Dawn suffers injuries in a bad fall, due to Karen’s inability to care for her properly, Patty admits Karen to a clinic for treatment of previously undiagnosed depression. For the two years that Karen recovers, her child lives with Patty and her family. Once Karen’s back on her feet, however, Patty isn’t willing to give Dawn back, claiming custody. Until this point, the story only touches on Karen’s psychological breakdown despite being told from her first-person point of view. As a result, it’s easy for readers to question whether Karen was really sick all along, as they never get to experience Karen “steadily sinking into the very dark hole” that led to her losing Dawn to Patty in the first place. The plot hinges on this information, however, making it difficult for readers to assess the book’s key question: is Karen fit for motherhood? The novel shifts gears when Karen’s lawyer, Analee Meriwether, becomes a first-person narrator in alternating chapters. Her perspective is sturdier, more insightful, and fuller than Karen’s. These sections, which concentrate on the legal elements of Karen’s parental identity, also flow more smoothly; here, the author, an attorney, slows down and writes fleshed-out, detailed scenes, which makes for a suspenseful, more insightful read. The first half of the book could have benefited from more of this style, which, unfortunately, comes too late.
A captivating premise that only heats up halfway through a thin narrative.