Can two problem-laden women salvage their futures?
Maternal damage looms large in this first novel, a lightweight comedy set in Long Beach, Calif., by poet Addonizio (In a Box Called Pleasure: Stories, 1999, etc.). Diana McBride’s obsessive/compulsive disorder was simultaneously overlooked and intensified by her dipsomaniac, promiscuous mother, who forced Diana into beauty pageants as a child. Jamie Ramirez gave birth at 17 because her mother is an inconsistent feminist Catholic who tolerates contraception but bans abortion. Jamie and Diana’s paths cross at a baby store called Teddy’s World, the latest place of employment in Diana’s checkered career. Whenever her rituals and countings and washings become overwhelming, she moves on in hopes of a fresh start. Husband Tim has also opted for a fresh start, driven away by rules like, “Shower after emptying the trash.” An unpromising mother herself, Jamie chooses to keep baby Stella rather than give her up for adoption, unaware that the child is a marvel whose opinions and observations begin while she is still in the womb. “Babyhood is kind of confining, so far,” Stella observes, and unfortunately this Look Who’s Talking characterization is merely the most ill-judged aspect of a novel more intent on cozy conclusions than developing its one-note characters. The pace accelerates as if suddenly turbo-charged on the night of Jamie’s 18th birthday, when she picks up a boy, drops acid and takes a plane to New York. Stella abruptly falls mortally ill and begins communing with the dead wife of Anthony, a stranger who assisted at Stella’s birth and who now reappears in a bar. Diana sets aside her obsessions to save Stella, earning Anthony’s healing affections. Jamie rushes back to shoulder her burdens, and a tide of forgiveness floats everyone’s boat.
Addonizio fondly indulges her insightful babies, bad mothers and troubled young women, but fails to convince readers that they should do the same.