by Kathryn Trueblood
The Permanent Press
June 2007, 249 pages
ISBN 13: 978-1-57962-151-3, Cloth $28
This novel is the first work of literary fiction to seriously examine the personal politics of choice. Five women, old college friends now approaching the age of forty, find their interlocking relationships strained when one of them decides to have a late-term abortion after delaying the decision in the hope that her husband would change his mind. The novel records the voices of her four friends as they struggle to bridge the gap between what they should feel and what they do feel. The women — an obstetric nurse, a public relations writer, a social worker, and a state college professor — are all actively described at their jobs with their loyalties divided. This book chronicles the lives of these women as they tackle issues of pregnancy vs. abortion, marriage vs. divorce, and career vs. motherhood.
Excerpts from The Baby Lottery
“In the unopened pile of mail she keeps in a tarnished toast holder, Jean Brovak finds a letter from her ex-husband, addressed in that balanced architect’s script of his. The letters kneel shoulder to shoulder the way gymnasts do to create a pyramid.”
“Her neighbor and mother would call and say ‘Sweetie, you just need to relax and forget about it. Then you’ll conceive.” Ever notice that relax is a very unrelaxing word. It has the word AX in it, which is what she wanted to do to all of them. RELAX AX AX AX. Instead she did what she could: Toffee peanuts, rocky road ice cream, frozen burritos, gallons of Chablis.”
“The woman has a cervix like a Goodrich tire. Half a day to dilate a few centimeters, then booming contractions for the last two hours.”
“Her friends say it’s a dead-end relationship. They’re absolutely right, only it doesn’t lead her to the same conclusions. She keeps telling them: Who needs
Mr. Right when you’ve got Mr. Vacation?”
“Her ex-husband was a money addict. He couldn’t get enough of everyone else’s money.”
“Virginia’s creative writing course meets in Franzen Hall, an industrial age, cement box built with pipes exposed on purpose so that you feel at all times as though you were in a toilet tank.”
“His sweetness is like the candy she used to make with her mother, dribbled in designs on the snow, breaking the minute it is lifted from the cold.”
“She knew she would love her baby no matter what, if his brain were an open bloom, or his heart had three chambers. She knew she would love him even if she had to watch him die.”
“Now her mom’s had a stroke. She can’t tell the difference between a diaper hamper and a mailbox. Half the time, she doesn’t know who Tasi is, but she always knows who her husband is, and in the olive-drab den when no one’s visiting, she tries to brain him with the porcelain figurine he gave her on their fiftieth wedding anniversary, you know the one, Big Girl in the Dirndl.”
“She isn’t shopping like that anymore—with the instinct of an ant pulling and pushing a whole wasp’s body in to the mound. Now she is in Costco buying a quantity of Kotex that will last till menopause; that’s her mood.”
Discussion from The Baby Lottery
- What was your immediate emotional reaction when you learned that Charlotte decides to have an abortion? Did your feelings change when you learned more about her partner, struggles, and situation? Why or why not?
- Though only Finley has a chapter to himself, there are several prominent male characters in The Baby Lottery. Which of these characters do you see as being strong and what makes them that way? Is what makes a male character strong different than what makes a female character strong?
- What effect did the shift to a first-person narrator have on page 188? How do you think your understanding of Charlotte would have been different if the author had not switched to the first person?
- At the core of this story there are the five old college friends. By the end of the book, how have their relationships with one another changed? Was the change avoidable?
- Was Jean’s anger with Charlotte justified? Why or why not?
- The women in this book are college-educated and pretty motivated. Many of them attempt to balance being a wife, girlfriend, lover, and/or mother with their careers. What are some of the challenges that these characters face as they attempt to occupy multiple roles? Are they successful?
A Book Sense Picks List 2007 selection from the American Booksellers Association
“Trueblood has written a beautiful novel about five women entering their 40s and discovering fault lines and continental drift where there was once easy collegiate friendship. She explores hot topics—abortion, child-raising, divorce—but the real beauty is in the writing, graceful, with startling metaphors that unexpectedly pop up, like land mines.”
—Rem Ryals, Village Books, Bellingham, WA“Now in their late thirties, five college friends discover that their past history can’t maintain their bonhomie, especially when their views and values strongly diverge. Each woman takes center stage in alternating chapters that converge without necessarily overlapping. Trueblood draws blood as these friends confront the disappointment of their own choices as well as those of one another. Graphic in its depiction of obstetrical complications, this book presents a beautifully drawn yet harsh portrait of love in its varied permutations and how finding happiness really is a matter of chance. Highly recommended for literary fiction collections.
“Divorce, kids, careers, boyfriends, finding yourself—Trueblood’s debut novel announces itself early on as mainstream women’s fiction. Trueblood’s sympathetic juggling between the various points of view proves an effective way of showing that simple formulas don’t work for today’s women.”