A twisted novel of family—the kinds we’re stuck with and the kinds we make—which poses big questions about love, fidelity, and parenthood.
Told in the voices of four characters involved in an ambitious fertility scheme, Frangello's (A Life in Men, 2014, etc.) novel catalogs the interconnected lives and marriages of four Chicago couples. There’s Lina, a former stripper contemplating leaving her longtime lover, Bebe—an academic “femi-nazi” and dom—for a wastrel playwright. Her brother, Miguel, is haunted by their abusive childhood in Caracas and afraid of failing at fatherhood despite the support of his well-to-do husband, Chad. Before long, the Guerra siblings become drawn into the world of white privilege exemplified by Chad’s WASPy, upper-crust family, including his vulnerable sister, Gretchen. When Gretchen agrees to donate her eggs to Chad and Miguel so they can raise a longed-for baby, she unwittingly sets off a chain of events that will detonate crisis after family crisis. Poor Gretchen is gaslit by her grasping and abusive husband, Troy, all the while distrusting the intentions of Chad and Miguel’s surrogate, Emily, a high school friend of Miguel’s whose home life is crumbling around her. As the characters reveal where their true loyalties lie—with their spouses or lovers, the families they have or the ones they long for—Frangello’s novel begins to fray at the seams of her ambitious plot. With a surfeit of melodrama, it can be hard to discern where the emotional center of Frangello’s narratives lies. The complicated viper’s nest of the “community baby” receives the bulk of her attention, while glimpses into the Guerras’ painful family secrets offer the possibility of greater depth. Still, this novel boldly attempts to address the intricacies of immigration, race, class, and sexuality that shape the contemporary American family—even if the plot raises more questions than it answers.
Fans of Frangello’s work will enjoy this intricate portrait of the connections between an immigrant Latino family and moneyed North Shore magnates.