Rather than the overwrought tearjerker it might have been—mother acts as surrogate for her infertile daughter—Kaplan (stories: Edge of Marriage, 1999) delivers an affecting and often biting portrait of family relationships.
Born without a uterus, Dale is desperate to have a baby. Adoption has proven difficult, and it seems all avenues are closed—until Dale reads in the paper of a woman who consents to carry a baby for her daughter. After much persuading, Dale’s 48-year-old divorced scientist mother, Maggie, agrees to bear the fertilized egg of Dale and her husband Nate. It seems simple enough (or as simple as these things ever are) to carry the child and at delivery hand it over to the new parents. What Maggie doesn’t count on is the growing attachment she feels for the baby growing inside, or Dale’s surprising detachment from both Maggie and the prospect of motherhood. But life becomes even more complicated for Maggie: not only does she fear her scientific research may again be put on hold (the first interruption to her work came with Dale’s birth), but she begins a passionate, uneasy affair with Ben, a fellow scientist and husband to her best friend Doris. When the baby is born, what Maggie has feared (or hoped) happens. Dale seems incapable of caring for Lily, and Nate is no help as he copes with the repercussions of an affair he had with a student. Maggie takes Lily, and she and Ben (Doris has kicked him out of the house), play at being young parents again. Kaplan’s instinct for character development succeeds in converting straight-from-the-headlines plotting into events that constitute natural progressions in already damaged lives. Though in love with Lily, Maggie knows the arrangement won’t last: eventually the pieces of normalcy will fall back into place, leaving all to reevaluate the meaning of family and trust.
A solid, well-written first novel that successfully avoids the saccharine and melodramatic.