A dramatization of the ethical and religious implications of in vitro fertilization.
The Rev. Cletus Nicholas McCarthy is an ardent opponent of IVF. He considers it a violation of Catholic doctrine, as it sunders the connection between sex and procreation and undermines the dignity of human life. When two married parishioners, Edidiong and Ima Eshiet, decide to conceive a child using IVF, Father McCarthy suspends their access to the sacraments. Outraged, they sue McCarthy for various transgressions, including discrimination because they’re black Nigerians. Eventually, during the trial, it’s disclosed that Father McCarthy, who always believed he was adopted, was actually birthed via IVF, making him the first Catholic priest so conceived. Pope Benedict XVI now must make a decision—not only regarding Father McCarthy’s fate, but also regarding the future doctrine of the church. Meanwhile, Barbara Sander’s daughter, Crystal, also conceived by IVF, desperately wants to know who her biological father is, and she determines that Dr. Josef Horacek was the sperm donor. Horacek was once Barbara’s colleague; she was in love with him, and he used his sperm for her procedure without her knowledge. To further complicate the tangled plot, Crystal is friends with Edo-Mma—the Eshiets’s daughter—and Horacek is Edidiong’s old college friend. And the character connections don’t stop there. Debut author Ayang has produced a high-reaching, philosophically charged novel that covers not only the bioethical issues involving IVF, but also the modern condition of the Catholic Church. However, the plot is laborious and tortuous—both challenging to follow and needlessly drawn out. Furthermore, the prose is often awkward and leaden, particularly during mechanically delivered exchanges of dialogue: “We are simply a puzzled mother and daughter seeking the truth,” Barbara says to Horacek at one point, for example, “and our appetite for food and drink will only be whetted by a true answer to quest.”
Despite its impressive philosophical ambition, this novel is as convoluted as it is implausible.