Cat looked after her sisters. Jessica and Megan, from the age of 12 when her mother left for another man and her soap actor father was simply never around much. Now they are all grown up. Jessica, who had an abortion when she was sixteen, is a housewife trying desperately and somewhat grimly with car-salesman husband Paulo to have a baby. Meanwhile the youngest, Megan, is a trainee GP who gets pregnant after a one-night stand with Australian dive-instructor Kirk. Cat has a relationship with older divorced karate instructor Rory who can't have any more children after having a vasectomy shortly before his wife got pregnant by another man and left him.
From this set up the story evolves. Will IVF deliver for Paulo and Jessica? How will Megan balance work and childcare as a single mother ... or will Kirk return to her? Will Cat decide to have children and, if she does, can she persuade Rory to go through fatherhood all over again?
A book that is rooted in reality.
But there is a lot of story to get through. Each baby takes nine months (if all goes well) to hatch. It was also contrived (and it felt a little contrived) so that we could explore the full range of possibilities. Thus, Paulo's brother Michael who already has a wife and baby feels excluded from the mother-daughter relationship and so begins an affair with receptionist Ginger. Someone has to have a miscarriage. One baby is born prematurely. Adoption and abortion are explored. Men are unreliable for every possible reason. We have to discover the realities of doctoring to the underclass, multiple sclerosis and the life of an actor. This is a broad canvas and as a result Parsons often has to tell rather than show; sweeping brushstrokes are needed. He is telling a story and so his characters sometimes feel like puppets of the plot. It was breadth and I wanted a little more depth. In this respect it reminded me a little of Victoria Hislop's The Thread.
But it was well told and I turned the pages over quickly.
Some great moments:
- "Nobody sets out to be a single parent." (C 1)
- "Family life meant nothing in the fridge, a mother gone, Jessica crying and baby Megan squawking for 'bis-quits, bis-quits'. Family life was their father away working, the au pair shagging some new boy out in the potting shed and not a bloody bis-quit in the house." (C 1)
- "She used to drive him crazy. Now he acted as though sex was an exam he hadn't prepared for." (C 1)
- "The terrible knowledge that she had been born to give birth in her turn, and that she might never fulfil that destiny." (C 4)
- "They were already lost in the banal materialism of their TV show. Big cars, white mansions, bikini-clad babes by the pool. At least we dreamed of freedom, Cat thought. When did the dreams of children become the same as the dreams of middle-aged men?" (C 6)
- "This was the womaniser's bitterly ironic fate - to be the father of an adored, beautiful baby girl." (C 15)
- "Nothing puts you in touch with your mortality like having a kid. The future belongs to her, not you." (C 18)
- 25%: Megan goes for an abortion but decides against it.
- 50%: Jessica and Paulo buy a big new house and give up on trying to have a baby; Kirk meets Megan again
- 75%: Cat, new pregnant, leaves her job; Megan and Kirk decide to go abroad; Jessica and Paulo visit an orphanage in China
- 90%: Paulo loses his business; Cat reconnects with Rory; Megan leaves Kirk to return to London
January 2020; 359 pages
Parsons also wrote Stories We Could Tell, a tale of three young male rock and roll journalists and their entwined adventures on the night that Elvis died: I enjoyed this rather more perhaps because the of tightness of narrative required by setting the whole story on a single night.