Trueblood (The Sperm Donor’s Daughter & Other Tales of Modern Family, 1998) considers the personal politics of choice in her first novel.
Nan is an obstetric nurse. She’s also the mother of a teenaged daughter and a young son, and she has a husband who’s semi-available emotionally—he sleeps in the shed when the pressures of marriage are just too much. Jean used to be a social worker. Now she’s managing a condominium complex and seething about the fact that her ex—with whom she tried for many years to have a child—has just become a father by his second wife. Virginia teaches college students to write, but she’s finding the job detrimental to the progress of her own novel as she cares for her young son and tends to her dissolving marriage. Tasi is a businesswoman who’s only just discovering that she’s not quite as satisfied with the commitment-free relationships she’s always cultivated. All of these women are approaching middle age, live in or around Seattle and have been friends since college. The book is constructed around one episode in the life of a fifth friend: Charlotte. Pregnant with a baby her husband doesn’t want, Charlotte decides to have a late-term abortion. While this synopsis is true enough in its details, it suggests a level of organization and narrative energy that the book lacks. As the central fact of the novel, Charlotte’s abortion should be a catalyzing event, one that provokes and challenges the other characters. Instead, each woman’s initial reaction to the abortion remains her only reaction. They all talk about it—isn’t that what girlfriends do?—but they just say the same things over and over again. Trueblood seems to have a perverse determination to avoid action whenever she can, preferring instead to render ostensibly important events in mental op-ed pieces and offhand recollections. The reader doesn’t even know for sure that the abortion has actually taken place until Jean and Nan are discussing it after the fact.