All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Better Together – Raymond Rose

on May 19, 2011

Paul is a successful horror writer who has been living in California but has recently moved back to his hometown in Pennsylvania. He and his childhood best friend Annie (and former high school girlfriend and brief college fling) have started up a relationship again. Annie is divorced with an eight month old. Her ex-husband Jason wants nothing to do with the child, believing that it’s possible that Max might not even be his and that Annie and Paul were having an affair behind his back. They weren’t, and Max is definitely Jason’s child but Jason has never even met him.

Paul is enjoying his new-found life of domestic bliss – he and Annie are amazingly happy. They know each other so well that they slip into their new role with ease, enjoying each other and living their new life. Paul is slowly bonding with Max, although the bulk of the parenting is still left to Annie. This all changes when Annie is killed in a car accident, just after she and Paul are married.

She leaves legal guardianship of Max to Paul, given that Jason has never wanted anything to do with him but Paul still feels that he should make the effort to contact Jason and discuss what should be done. Jason rebuffs him at every stage, stating clearly that he has never met the child and doesn’t want anything to do with him and he’s Paul’s responsibility. So Paul is faced with being a widower so quickly after marrying, and also, with raising by himself, his late wife’s young son. Barely 9 months old, Max is an easy baby, a well behaved baby but it doesn’t take long before Paul is struggling to keep his head above water. He finds himself staring blankly at the television all day, almost ignoring Max other than taking care of his basic feeding, changing, putting to sleep needs and suddenly he realises that he needs to do more. He tries to join a parenting group, is rebuffed by one for being a man and when one does agree to meet him, several members immediately chastise him for attempting to raise Max alone when everyone knows that “a child needs a mother” and “mothers are more naturally equipped to parent/raise children than men”. Paul is disheartened but decides that the women are right – he needs a wife and mother for Max. So he creates a dating profile online.

Paul and Max muddle their way through together, with the support of Paul’s mother, Annie’s former boss and her husband. Their life with just the two of them moves along happily, until one day, Jason reappears. He’s had a change of heart…and he wants to get to know his son.

The author contacted me to ask if I might be interested in reviewing this book and another one and this one intrigued me right away because I thought the take on it was something fresh and original. Very often we read about single mothers of young children and babies – there are tonnes of novels out there written from that perspective. But it’s not very often that I’ve come across a single father protagonist in a book, especially a man who is left with raising a child that he didn’t father and whose life he had only been in very briefly when fate hands him sole legal guardianship.

There’s quite a bit to like about this book – Paul is an easygoing and genuine sort of guy who moves home to be with the woman he loves (and be a father to her son) only to have that woman taken from him a very short time later. He’s left raising little Max alone, well mostly alone, although there are people he can turn to for support and advice and at first, he’s just going through the motions. Barely functioning, just getting by enough to get Max’s basic needs seen to without expanding on his care any more than that. Because of this, he perhaps gets swept up into some silly ideas – namely the idea that he needs a wife/mother for Max. That part of the storyline was thankfully not a huge part because it was ludicrous and Paul’s mother stepped in to offer him some really good advice. Advice he should’ve sought in the first place.

What I feel this book lacked was what it really feels like to parent a baby, especially by yourself. I’ve watched a seventeen (now eighteen) year old girl that I’m very close to, give birth to and raise a baby alone. Her child is now 15 months old and I’ve heard about every sleepless night, every runny nose, every tooth breaking through, every raised temperature. I’ve helped her establish a routine that suited her and her baby and given that I’m a parent to a son 18 months older than hers, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions on starting formula, starting solids, teething, crawling, walking. I myself had a friend with a baby a year older than mine who probably fielded the same questions from me. I know that Max was older when Paul took custody but I expected more in this book about what life as sole parent is like. It’s exhausting work even with two parents sometimes but Max seems to be a conveniently very good baby, rarely ever crying or being out of sorts. Teething is mentioned briefly, but the novel doesn’t cover what looking after a teething and distressed child is really like. Especially when molars are arriving! The narrative also skips 4 years before Max’s first birthday, which again, just seems like a neat way of sidestepping issues that come with raising a toddler.

I also don’t  know what the laws are like in America but when Max’s biological father reappeared in their lives with intent, the first thing I would’ve done was consult a very good child lawyer, if I were in Paul’s situation. That’s if I didn’t get Jason to consent to a legal adoption when Annie first died. But if he overlooked that in his grief, lawyering up should’ve been the very first thing he did when Jason reappeared when Max was 4. Instead Paul assumed things and took advice from people who probably really didn’t know. It’s possible they were all right and that he would’ve had no rights if Jason had chosen to take on full custody but I like to think that courts are a little more progressive than that these days. By the time Paul finally did snap out of it and contact a lawyer, the situation was almost over anyway and was resolved very neatly.

It also needs a more thorough editing. Couple of spelling errors (“dinning table” instead of dining, few other bits and pieces) and some formatting issues. If you’re self published, or published by a small independent ePress, then I think that the effort to make sure that the manuscript is perfect should be total. Errors are distracting, but not completely off putting. Apart from that, this novel was a quick, easy and fairly enjoyable read.

Book #66 of 2011

**Note: I received an eBook file from the author in exchange for a review.

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