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The Comfort of Lies, a review

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When the 80s brought successful novels based on courtroom drama, I began to seek out novels with an adoption theme, for I know that adoption has as many interesting story lines as the legal field – sometimes even the same stories!  Thus I eagerly looked forward to reading Randy Susan Meyers’ book, The Comfort of Lies, published in 2013 by Atria books, a division of Simon and Shuster.

The novel links three women who are bound by an adoption that is five years old (or in adoption jargon:  five years post-placement): Tia, the birth mother; Caroline, the adoptive mother; and Juliette, the wife of the man who fathered the child.  The connection comes when Tia forwards photographs sent to her by Caroline per their open adoption agreement, and Juliette intercepts the photographs addressed to her husband.

The comforting lies are trifold:  Tia hopes that when he sees the pictures of the daughter who was placed for adoption, Nathan will leave his wife and two sons, return to Tia and fulfill her fantasy of a perfect life; Caroline has hidden her feelings of personal failure because she hasn’t lived up to her expectation of the ideal mother; and Juliette, without a word to her husband, lures Caroline and the child into her lair and then builds her own fantasy incorporating this female child into her family peopled with boys, half brothers to the adopted girl child.

The novel is set in Boston, and recent events in Boston lent a special cache to sitting down with a book and reading of Brandeis University, Jamaica Plain, Waltham and South Boston neighborhoods.

What the author got right:  the expectation by participants that an infant adoption will solve problems on all sides of the adoption circle; the dilemma involved as modern women choose between career and family.

What left me unsatisfied: Sadly, this is book expands the ‘otherness’ of birth mothers in general; and, in an effort to wrap up all the flayed ends of this drama, there’s an oversimplification of how the main characters arrived at their transformations.  Will Tia be successful in staving off her flirtation with alcoholism?  How will Caroline accept her husband assuming more parenting their daughter?  Will Juliette ever communicate to Nathan what she wants from him?  The affects on the child are virtually ignored, without a hint of the potential trauma that awaits the child as she grows up.  These issues provide cliffhangers.  Perhaps this begs for a new saga from the child’s point of view when she grows up and incorporates these three women – Tia, Caroline and Juliette – into her understanding of “mother.”

There is precedence for correcting adoption misinformation in one book by writing another.  In 1988 Barbara Kingsolver’s first novel, The Bean Trees, was published. The story involved an adoption of a three year old Cherokee by a single woman ‘just passing through’ Oklahoma. This first novel met with much literary acclaim, but the world of adoption screamed at the author’s lack of awareness of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which dictates how a Native American child can be adopted.  In 1993 Pigs in Heaven, Ms Kingsolver continued the story with the same characters in a chase to complete the adoption by Indian Child Welfare rules.

Leaving the reader calling for more is a good way to end a novel, isn’t it?

Written by bethkoz

May 3, 2013 at 4:21 am

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