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 British writer-journalist White (Mothertime, 1994, etc.), who soldiers in the Fay Weldon school of domestic satire, returns--this time to use a surrogate-motherhood scam as a lens through which to explore the complex nature of family ties. Seventeen-year-old Brenda takes shorthand at 150 words a minute, but her looks broadcast her lower-class origins: She has tea stains on her work clothes and ``chips-and-vinegar skin under bright orange No 7 makeup.'' Certainly she doesn't hold a candle to Jessica, her impeccably coiffed boss, who rushes home from a hard day at the office to whip up a dinner of young pigeons in red wine. But chance makes Jessica deign to focus on her untidy secretary: Brenda is accidentally pregnant and Jessica wants a baby. Worn out from a long bout of infertility treatments with her younger boyfriend, Rudi, Jessica fears that he'll leave her because he so badly wants a child. So she concocts a scheme to have Rudi make love, under her supervision, to barely pregnant Brenda, and then, believing that the ensuing child is his, adopt it with Jessica. (Brenda will get a tidy sum for her efforts.) And all goes sort of according to plan--except that a wild turn of events installs Brenda's boisterous, Elvis-singing family in the house next door to Jessica, leading to all sorts of noisy interfamilial merging. When they discover that Brenda is expecting with Rudi, the mom, dad, and lunkish brothers invite themselves over for celebratory visits and travel en masse to the hospital for the delivery. Jessica does get her man, but in the process she gains an unrepentantly tacky new family, and the carefully constructed graciousness of her life will never be the same. White weaves earnest but perceptive asides about control, class, and solidarity among women into her heavy-handed satire: The result is a tasty snack that goes down as easily as fast food but actually packs some nutritive wallop.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1995
ISBN: 1-85797-561-8
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Orion/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995


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