Saturday, July 31, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Baby Proof'

The Book: Baby Proof

The Author: Emily Giffin

How I Found It: I got turned onto Emily Giffin's books by one of my favorite actresses, and decided to read them all once I realized all the topics she has written about interest me.

The Review: Claudia Parr finds in Ben Davenport what she always thought she wouldn't: a man who understands and agrees with her decision not to have children. Claudia has always known that she does not want to be a mother, and as she approaches her thirties, nearly every man she meets is scared off by her conviction, until Ben. Ben fully supports her decision and has no desire to have children. They marry quickly, and things seem good until two friends of theirs, always happily childfree, suddenly announce they're pregnant, and that it was planned. And suddenly Ben changes his mind--he wants kids after all.

Of all Giffin's premises, all of which seem to involve love and its complications, this one seemed like the most intriguing and thought-provoking: whether or not the decision to have children can be a deal-breaker. Claudia reasons that it is the only decision for a couple which cannot be compromised on--you either have kids or you don't, and there is no middle ground. It was an interesting role reversal to have the man change his mind rather than the woman. And I liked the book until the ending, which I'll discuss--spoilers included; my apologies, but I feel as though it's the only way to give my honest opinion--later.

I did like the execution of the book and the number of other issues Giffin raised. Claudia finds herself very quickly divorced from Ben and living with her friend, Jess, who is a great friend but self-destructive when it comes to her personal life, always falling for the wrong guy. There's also Claudia's two older sisters, both of whom have issues with their marriages--Maura's husband is a philanderer; Daphne cannot get pregnant no matter how much she tries. I liked reading about Claudia's relationships to the other women in her life, and all the crises were well-drawn, although some of their resolutions felt like hand-waving. All the secondary characters were well-developed and realistic, although some situations in particular could have used a few pages more of screentime (a crisis Jess goes through is mentioned for a few pages and then mostly forgotten, in particular).

The relationship between Claudia and Ben didn't comprise as much of the book as I was expecting, but it came off as believable and I think Giffin made the situation realistic and easy to relate to. I was surprised by this, as I didn't personally agree with Claudia's choice--I'd like to have children myself someday--but still found myself on her side when Ben begins pressuring her to consider the idea of having children. Giffin does touch on the origins of Claudia's decision, citing her reasons not to have kids, all of which seemed reasonable. The seeming crux of the issue, Claudia's own flighty mother, is never fully explored, but the reasons Claudia gave were a mix of practical reasons and personal insecurities, and it was nice that there were many layers to her decision. We didn't get much information on why Ben didn't want kids, which might have helped flesh out his character and his decisions a little more.

Now, to discuss the ending. Spoilers, obviously...

I wasn't satisfied with the way Giffin resolved the primary conflict: whether or not Claudia and Ben could patch up their relationship when there was no way to compromise. Claudia's mind is changed when Ethan (of Something Borrowed and more centrally Something Blue) tells her that if Ben was her soulmate, she would have had his baby in order to keep him. This was the beginning of my "What??" reaction. I just hated that logic because it seemed to treat the issue so lightly and made it seem like Ethan was condoning the idea of having children to fix a marriage. He also mentioned that Romeo and Juliet taking poison just to be with each other made them soulmates, which really didn't help his argument.

The fact that Claudia and Ben both reversed their positions in the end (Claudia begins to consider having children; Ben realizes a child isn't as important to him as Claudia) is supposed to be symbolic of the decision in "The Gift of the Magi". The thing was, it just really bothered me. Claudia still isn't sure in the end whether she'll make a good mother, but she considers having a child anyway--just to keep Ben. This really made me uneasy as a reader, because it basically means that Claudia's considering having a child she wouldn't truly love just to keep her husband. It just didn't seem right and I really wasn't comfortable with the way the conflict was resolved. Though we don't know in the end what Claudia and Ben's final decision is, I'm suspecting we're supposed to believe they do go on to have children. I was extremely uncomfortable with this resolution and its implications, and I feel the story would have been better served by having Claudia be steadfast about her resolution.

** End Spoilers. **

Overall, I really enjoyed the book right up until the ending, which made me uncomfortable and dissatisfied with the overall message of the book. It did make me think, though, and I think that's what makes it a good book, regardless of the ending. I'd recommend this one to chick lit fans or people who want a book that's pretty sure to promote discussion.

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