Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Review: Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain

Molly and Aidan want to adopt a baby. Molly lost their daughter at twenty weeks pregnant and had to have a hysterectomy so they can no longer have a biological child. As they go through the long and comprehensive process of applying to be adoptive parents, Molly worries that the lies and omissions about her past will finally come to light, keeping them from being approved. She desperately wants to be a mother but the events of one terrible summer that formed her so many years ago rise up in the form of reluctance and unexplainable fear at the process and what it could uncover now. In order to hide from that summer, Molly has told Aidan that her mother is dead rather than the truth: that she is completely estranged from her mother because the summer Molly was 14, her mother killed her father.

Fourteen year old Molly lives a fairly idyllic life on Morrison Ridge, with her mother Nora, father Graham, biological mother Amalia, and Graham's caretaker Russell. Graham needs a full time caretaker because he is in the advanced stages of MS, completely confined to a wheelchair and unable to move any part of his body but his head and neck. Despite this devastating disability, he is a kind and gentle father, adored by Molly, and is a still practicing therapist renowned for Pretend Therapy and his books on the topic. Molly's life is going to change significantly this summer though. At 14, she's both naive child and striving to be an adult. She is sometimes attuned to her father's feelings, worrying that he needs more happiness in his life and at other times she's a bratty, selfish teen who can't see beyond her own irresponsible wants. Her summer starts with Molly getting close to a new friend, one who turns out not to have the golden life Molly has imagined but who is given freedoms and left unsupervised in ways that tempt and draw Molly. Through fast, wild Stacy, Molly will push her boundaries, experimenting with pot and fooling around with boys. And as she rebels against the sheltered, safe life her parents have created for her, she will miss vital undercurrents in her immediate and extended family that will change everything and reverberate through her life.

Chapters alternate between adult Molly in the present and teenaged Molly that long ago summer, between the emotional roller coaster unknown of a potential open adoption with a teenaged mom and the summer that Molly storms towards adulthood and loses her father. The two different time lines don't always compliment each other as much as they might and sometimes one even undermines the emotional resonance of the other, as when Molly's fear of open adoption is contrasted with the inclusive way in which her own childhood was handled. Chamberlain has done a great job portraying Molly's early teen naivete, the way she can change from lovely and caring to offended high dudgeon in no time flat, her rejection of her parents' strictures, and her self-centered desire for the freedom to indulge herself. All of these aspects of young Molly's personality ring very true to life but they don't make her a very likable character. Adult Molly can, and sometimes does, come across as cold and unemotional rather than someone protecting her feelings as a result of her past. That she continues to keep the biggest secret (and several related secrets) of her life from Aidan, despite knowing that he is the most steadfast, forgiving, and caring man ever, as if in not facing the tragedy of that summer, she has not been able to mature beyond that fourteen year old girl, is troubling. In fact, she's never tried to examine what she knows to be true from an adult perspective, clinging to her childhood certainty and deliberately turning her back on her entire family. Of course, the secrets must eventually come out and the (rather predictable) truth of the mystery of Graham's death is slowly revealed as the narrative moves on toward a final culmination. The portions of the novel focused on young Molly are dominant over the present day story, leaving the novel a bit unbalanced, not delving as deeply into the fascinating issue of open adoption as it might have. As a coming of age novel, a look at the cost of debilitating chronic illness on an entire family, the destructive power of secrets, and the many permutations of what constitutes family, this delves into complicated and interesting ideas in an emotional and mostly engaging way.

Thanks to the publisher and Book Sparks PR for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

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