A Ballantine Book Published by The Random House Publishing Group, New York, NY, 2003. ISBN 0345460111.
Reviewed by Lisa Shirah-Hiers
Posted on 05/17/2004
Fiction: Chick Lit
I had not known of Sarah Bird when a friend lent me her poignant and amusing novel, The Mommy Club. The book, written during Bird's pregnancy and the birth of her son, tells the tale of free-spirited Trudy Herring, who, at 38, is an unlikely candidate for surrogate motherhood. Grieving the child she aborted 10 years earlier, Trudy sees getting pregnant with her boss, Hillary Geotler's baby as a way to bring her own lost child's spirit back into the world.
The fun begins when the hyper-organized Hillary gets a look at Trudy's cluttered apartment. Arguing that such surroundings are hardly healthy for a developing fetus, Hillary proposes that Trudy come to live with her and her husband, Victor, in their posh mansion in San Antonio's famous King William district. There, Hillary feeds her nauseating "bonus meals" like Liver and Yogurt Stroganoff, catered in by a local health food restaurant. Trudy is tucked away in a frilly bedroom complete with a bed canopy that makes her feel as though she is "floating away."
The contrast between her craft-cluttered apartment and Hillary's continuously re-designed home is as pronounced as that between Trudy's easy-going style and Hillary's rigidly organized one. Predictably, the difference in their personalities leads to a profound clash as Trudy begins to wonder if the affluent Goetlers really will make such good parents. Trudy summarizes Hillary's horrifying parenting philosophy:
"'Parenthood,' she likes to tell me,' is mostly a matter of organization. It's a time-management problem.'"
The book is filled with Trudy's dry wit and earthy honesty about the bizarre situation. Becoming a surrogate is not for the faint-hearted. At the very least, it makes for some seriously awkward moments:
"There is nothing like the prospect of a new acquaintance's semen being injected into your body to take the frivolity out of a meeting."
On the subject of motherhood, Trudy relates:
"I'd read women's magazines where they talk about the 'anguish' of infertility, so I had to assume that part of Hillary's frustration was anguish. Actual real pain. But I could only assume, since I've never had any of the feelings the magazines talk about. The yearning to hold a little body next to yours. The emptiness of a life without someone to care for. The joy of watching a little one grow up. It just always seemed to me that these voids could be filled nicely with a kitty."
Ultimately, pregnancy changes Trudy as she begins to realize that Hillary's obsessive controlling and Victor's cold nature will not make a good home for a baby she is sure will inherit her own quirky, artistic bent. Just as she's wondering how she can ever turn her baby over to the Goetlers, Trudy runs into her old flame, Sinclair. The charming but unscrupulous Sinclair has become something of a has-been in the years since he left Trudy for another woman. But true to character, the ever optimistic Trudy looks past all that and daydreams of a way, any way, to turn herself, Sinclair and her unborn child into a happy, if unconventional family. Unfortunately, reality—Sinclair's indifference and Trudy's lack of finances—keeps intruding.
In The Mommy Club, Bird brilliantly portrays the physical and emotional challenges of pregnancy, the precarious finances but soul-nourishing joys of the artistic life, the abiding value of friendship and love-wherever we can find them, and what it really means to be a good mother. And she does so without preaching, with such grace and good humor that the reader can't help laughing out loud at Trudy's irreverent witticisms and the ridiculous situations she gets into. The book turns out not to be about surrogate parenthood at all, but about the profound change a child brings to the lives of all those who enter, however unprepared, The Mommy Club.
Growing up in a big Catholic family, the daughter of an air force pilot and an army nurse, Sarah Bird was, herself, ambivalent about becoming a wife and mother. But ultimately she did both. She is the author of five novels including The Yokota Officers Club, named Best Work of Fiction of 2001 by the Texas Institute of Letters BookSense Pick, and The Virgin of the Rodeo, which was selected Southwest Book Critics Best Novel of 1993. She lives in Austin, Texas.
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