All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Dear Thing by Julie Cohen

on March 25, 2016

Dear Thing2Dear Thing
Julie Cohen
St Martin’s Griffen
2016, 432p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

After years of watching her best friends Ben and Claire try for a baby, Romily has offered to give them the one thing that they want most.

Romily expects it will be easy to be a surrogate. She’s already a single mother, and she has no desire for any more children. But Romily isn’t prepared for the overwhelming feelings that have taken hold of her and which threaten to ruin her friendship with Ben and Claire-and even destroy their marriage.

Now there are three friends, two mothers and only one baby, and an impossible decision to make…

I love books about surrogacy, the intricacies of it. I think it’s a really interesting topic (altruistic surrogacy) and I think I take an interest in it because I once offered to be a surrogate for a friend of mine who was born with heart problems, should she ever require it. Unfortunately she didn’t live to the age where that would’ve been an option for us to seriously consider but I still think about it. I have had two very easy pregnancies and births and it’s something I feel I could probably do for someone.

However, unlike Romily in this novel, I wouldn’t offer to be a surrogate for the guy I was in love with and his wife. That blurs the lines considerably, especially when genetically, the child that Romily carries is hers and Ben’s, the guy she is in love with. They conceive using artificial insemination after ten attempts at IVF for Ben and his wife Claire. Romily has been in love with Ben since their university days but it’s a passive kind of love – she doesn’t intend for him or Claire to ever find out and she’s not attempting to get Ben to return her feelings. The offer she makes is genuine (even though she makes it when they’re both drunk) and I feel as though Romily does believe that because she’s a single mother who has done it hard and who doesn’t want any more children, she will be able to go through this pregnancy without becoming attached. However, the fact is she’s carrying Ben’s baby – it doesn’t matter that she intends to give the baby to Ben and Claire at the end of the pregnancy. It’s also conceived using her own eggs, so that makes it even harder for Romily to maintain an emotional distance.

Claire is a difficult character to warm to but I understood her. I understood her disappointment, her heartbreak, her feeling of failure and I understood when she made the decision that she was done. Done with charting and medical interventions and procedures for no result. She had to protect her mental health, which was becoming affected by what she was going through. So I sympathised with Claire and her situation, I don’t know what it’s like to have to try to become pregnant. It’s a long running joke in my husband’s family that they only have to walk past their partners in order for them to become pregnant! I think it’s something that would be very, very difficult and almost impossible for someone like me, who hasn’t experienced it, to fully grasp.

The character that bothered me is Ben. Wow he’s insensitive. And utterly oblivious. And selfish. He uses and manipulates both of the women in this novel. When Claire is done, Ben makes it all about him and his needs and his wants. I get that he wants a baby – Claire wants a baby too. But she’s done punishing herself, she’s done putting herself through everything and instead of supporting her in her choice and helping her through it, he begs her to change her mind, begs her to think of what he wants and then suggests that his longtime friend, who Claire is not exactly comfortable with, conceive and carry his baby and then give it to them. When Claire doesn’t immediately jump up and down or involve herself in the resulting pregnancy straight away, he makes her feel small. He then begins to devote all his time and emotional energy to Romily, because she’s carrying the baby. Claire, the only person who has no real legal rights over the resulting child until papers are signed, is pretty much left on the outer. I thought Ben acted like a massive douche pretty much right the way through this novel up until the end. It actually began to annoy me just how stupid he was being at times and how insensitive. It’s like he completely forgot Claire in this equation – yes Romily is doing an amazing thing and giving you the chance to be parents. Parents Ben, because you’re supposed to be going to parent this baby with Claire. Your wife. I find it hard to believe in a way that Ben never really had  an idea how Romily felt about him. I think that deep down he did know and used it, perhaps subconsciously, in order to get what he wanted. They really rushed it, instead of taking time to sit down and talk about issues, expectations, legalities, etc. And perhaps that was desperation, so that no one changed their minds. But wow it made for some mess.

I think this book did a good job in why altruistic surrogacy can still be very problematic. It can work – but I think that it probably has a better chance of working if there’s less emotional entanglement. The fact that Ben and Romily had the close and intimate friendship rather than Romily and Claire definitely created problems that didn’t exist prior to the pregnancy. And as much as Romily, the scientist, believed that she could go through the pregnancy without becoming attached, the reality was much more difficult than she expected. Claire’s attempt to protect herself from disappointment and heartbreak at times made her seem cold and she was a ‘researcher’. I think that had been Claire’s only form of control over everything she had gone through so when Romily doesn’t really conform to the rules or present what Claire expects from what she’s read, she’s not quite sure how to deal with it. Learning to relax is something Claire will have to do because babies don’t read manuals!

I really enjoyed this – I think at times Ben’s cluelessness or stereotype (“me protect woman having my baby”) was a bit too overdone but apart from that I really liked the exploration of issues, blurred lines and examination of relationships arising from a complicated situation.


Book #55 of 2016

2 responses to “Review: Dear Thing by Julie Cohen

  1. Lily Malone says:

    There is a memoir/autobiography coming out this year by Shannon Garner, who I met on FB, which deals with her surrogacy story. I’m looking forward to it very much. It fascinates me too.

  2. michelletw says:

    What a great review. it sounds like a wonderful book, I’m a bit fascinated by surrogacy too

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