The Austin Chronicle

Book Review: The Nearness of You

by Amanda Eyre Ward

By Jessi Cape, February 17, 2017, Arts

Elizabeth Stone, author of A Boy I Once Knew: What a Teacher Learned From Her Student, wrote, "Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." Loving a child, as a parent in particular, transforms the human existence, and it can be a shock to the system. Ordinary individuals become warriors, being sleep deprived becomes a resting state, and sometimes that irrationally powerful love of a parent compels a person to do strange things in the interest of the child – for better or worse.

In Amanda Eyre Ward's novel The Nearness of You, Dr. Suzette Kendall is a dedicated career woman, a renowned heart surgeon whose wobbly genetics and personal history solidified an agreement with her husband Hyland to remain childless. Fifteen years into their marriage, however, he announces he would very much, in fact, like to have a child with her. What about surrogacy? Fast-forward to Dorrie, their paid surrogate, and the gut-wrenching possibility that a newborn child could become both bait and pawn. Dorrie acts on her newfound maternal connection and decides to "choose love." She runs. They follow. The story explodes from there. Ward's even hand guides the reader through many of the vulnerabilities associated with big love. Though much of the story is on cruise control, driven by the forward momentum of finding Dorrie, Ward jerks the wheel and intentionally veers off course. As in real life, the parental narrative gets hit with an unexpected plot twist. And then another and another.

It's worth noting that so often women, particularly in maternal roles, are painted as overly emotional. Refreshingly, Ward juxtaposes Suzette's stainless steel tendencies with Hyland's far more emotionally driven demeanor. "Do you feel anything?" he asks her. Suzette's armor has a crack now, though: She's made that momentous decision. Through the development of Suzette's character, Ward explores many facets of the human condition: What makes a mother? What is a family? How do we protect ourselves while loving completely? The other characters fall somewhat flat, but Ward's interesting use of shifting perspectives affords the reader enough insight into the list of players swirling around baby Eloise to sustain interest. Long threads of medical jargon from the operating table balance what could've easily become a soggy, sappy Lifetime movie plot, a move that mirrors the main characters' marriage.

Despite minor bumps in the road, Ward encapsulates the journey: "You are a mother if you sit and wait. And even as your heart cries out for you to save yourself, to run, you do not. You don't leave the room."

The Nearness of You

by Amanda Eyre Ward
Ballantine Books, 240 pp., $27

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