4/5. This book was lovely. This book had some rather odd flaws. I adored this book. I wanted to slam this book against the wall (one advantage of e-books, I guess, is that I can’t ever give in to that temptation). I love this book madly. I don’t know that I recommend it to any of you. Then again, I don’t know that I don’t
…Right. So. This book is about Portia, an admissions officer at Princeton, which by itself pretty much guaranteed I would read the whole thing; my entire high school career was basically my parents (successfully) gaming the college admissions system. (That’s right. The craziness these days? You can blame, partially, my parents.) Every so often there are these little lectures about the admissions process, which I could see someone else being a little taken aback by but which I ate up like candy. All the people in the book (except maybe Portia’s friend) are mildly unlikeable, including the main character. Usually this turns me off, but about a third of the way through I had identified so strongly with Portia (character-wise and in our response to college; our upbringing and life events and current status were/are totally different) that instead of thinking “She’s mildly unlikeable,” I was thinking, “Huh. I identify with her so much that I wonder very much now if I’m
Dante is referenced in the book, which obviously made me fall in love. (Though I found the literary referencing, in general, to be a little off-kilter. Some of it was tossed off lightly and well, and some of it was extremely heavy-handed.) The writing is good; I suppose it’s probably no better than other writing in the mildly-literary-writing-about-the-upper-
middle-class category, but after coming off of a spate of YA first-book writing it was very refreshing, let me tell you. Possibly the best thing about the book are the little excerpts from student admission essays gracing the top of each chapter; these are hilarious. They range from the sublime to the terrible and everything in between, with bonus snipes at a couple of common grammar mistakes.
There are some weird oddities in the book. One is the two-chapter (I think?) flashback that happens late in the book, which — I see why she did it, but I’m not sure it completely worked structurally for me. Another completely random thing is that Portia is (at least genetically) Jewish; whenever this came up (which it did, being a minor plot point) I would sort of do a double-take at her name being Portia. Her mother is such that it is totally believable that she gave Portia this name on purpose (neither Portia nor her mother is in the slightest culturally Jewish), but this is never addressed AT ALL, including the part where the meaning of her name is dissected.
So now let me talk about why I wanted to throw the book across the room. First, I need to tell you a story. Let me make clear that E, my lovely three-year-old, is the light of my life and quite obviously the best and cutest and most lovable kid that has ever existed. (Don’t worry, that’s not the story.) She was a very much planned and wanted and wished-for baby. When I was pregnant with her, everyone told me, “It’ll all be worth it when you hold her in your arms!” and “You’ll love her more than anything in the world as soon as you see her!”
She was born. Childbirth sucked. They put her in my arms.
And I didn’t feel like I loved her. I didn’t feel like it was worth it at all. (I did, for the record, feel a deep sense of responsibility for this helpless little thing, which might well have been love. But it didn’t feel
I felt like a complete failure as a parent, as a mother, as a human being. Because any real human being, any real
mother, would be totally in love with her newborn baby, right? That’s what everyone had told me!
I will never forget that my cousin called me up to see how I was doing, and she told me that she’d had the same reaction. I will never forget that. I will also never forget a totally random friend at church, R., that I talked to a month later. Most of my church friends said things to the effect of, “Oh, aren’t you ecstatic to have such a darling little baby?” (She was a darling little baby, for the record. She was
. But I wasn’t ecstatic about it.) R. asked me how I was doing, and I said something noncommittal, and R. said wryly, “Yeah, at this point I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep my son either.” That floored me. That it was okay. That it was okay to say, hey, you know what? I didn’t feel like I loved my baby when she was born, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make me a bad mom. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. It doesn’t mean I can’t love her, or that our relationship isn’t going to be strong and awesome.
But it means that whenever I see that expectation that mothers will fall desperately in love with their babies as soon as they see them, I get really, really upset. (Not to say that they won’t! Many do! Oxytocin is a wonderful thing! But it’s not everyone.)( Spoilers; no more spoilers than in the preview of the movie based on the book, to be honest, but then again the movie previews pretty much spoil the book; on the other hand I read the book knowing the plot and it was fine, it’s not exactly a plot-heavy book )
I… kind of want fic for this book. From Helen’s POV, ideally. She gets so little to do in this book, and we never get more than the one-dimensional portrait from Portia’s standpoint, with only very vague hints from other characters that there’s more than that… But I suppose I’ll never get it.