Four women confront the quandaries surrounding modern motherhood, in Weiner’s fraught latest (In Her Shoes, 2002, etc.).
The four narrators of this cautionary tale of motherhood wouldn’t be where they are without serious parenting issues. Trust-fund baby Bettina’s father, Marcus, a Wall Street kingpin, was so devastated when her mother decamped to Taos to follow a guru, that he fell prey to an airbrushed gold digger, India, who, Bettina believes, not only tricked him into marriage but into reproducing by surrogacy. Jules, a work-study student at Princeton, becomes an egg donor to earn enough to put her father, a formerly respectable high school teacher whose career and marriage exploded after a drunken vehicular felony, through rehab. Annie, happily married, still anguishes over the expense of raising two rambunctious boys and maintaining a ramshackle family farmhouse on her husband Frank’s salary as a TSA officer. To replenish the family coffers, Frank reluctantly agrees to let her become a surrogate mother—very reluctantly, it turns out. India, abandoned by her own mother, fled to Hollywood from Connecticut at 18. Failing to take Hollywood by storm, she reinvented herself as a publicist, shedding years and pounds with the aid of false documents and surgical enhancements. At 37, India, a rising Manhattan PR star, ensnares Marcus by helping him order coffee at Starbucks. Bettina hires a detective, discovering India's real age (43) and other truths so shocking that they cannot be revealed until the end of the novel. Nonetheless, her brothers and her laid-back Buddhist mother refuse to help her dislodge India—there’s plenty of money to go around, after all. Besides, could that unfamiliar discomfiture Bettina is experiencing be sympathy for her stepmother? And could India actually be factoring love into her calculations of Marcus’ net worth?
The conflicts enmeshing all these characters, as each becomes embroiled in Marcus and India’s “assisted gestation” scheme, are gripping, and Weiner’s elucidation of socio-economic determinism is as sharp as ever. However, the ending does not so much jump the shark as de-fang it.