Review of: Yearning
Reviewer: Stephen Gallup
I hear that most readers of books are women, and suspect that this novel about infertility will have particular appeal to female readers. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course. Husbands may not suffer the same emotional crisis their wives do, but a concerned man is part of every couple grappling with the inability to conceive. (According to a recent LA Times article, infertility afflicts 10 to 15% of the population.) As a man, I found this story riveting, and not only because my family too encountered the problem described.
When my wife asked what I was reading last night, and I said it was a story about everything a couple went through trying to have a baby (keeping daily records of basal body temperature, taking medications like Clomid, etc.), she groaned and begged me to say no more. Too many unpleasant memories there.
What I like best and especially recognize here is Amanda’s ever-renewing hope that all her efforts (described in painstaking detail) will finally be rewarded. At first, the reader can see it coming: She thinks this month she’ll finally become pregnant, and we know she won’t. Later, when she has gone to truly extraordinary lengths, her success seems so inevitable that I at least thought the story was basically over. But no, it’s not that simple, either in life or in good fiction. That part is particularly well handled. (This is not to say she doesn’t get what she wants, but you’ll have to find that out for yourself.)
I also recognize Amanda’s sense of unfairness as, one by one, her friends announce their pregnancies–including some for whom having children seems far less important than it is to her.
All this resonated most strongly with me not because of the shared experience of infertility but because I’ve found that other problems in life can follow the same course. Before experiencing difficulty in having further children, I raised a developmentally disabled child. I believed that, if only the right interventions were implemented, with sufficient persistence and faith, that he could be rescued from his condition. Like Amanda, I experienced cycles of enormous optimism and crushing letdowns and then renewed optimism, as did my wife. We too suffered from inevitable comparisons between our situation and that of parents who didn’t seem to appreciate their good fortune. After that adventure, the later difficulties with having another child could not rock the boat in our household quite as drastically as is portrayed here. (Also, my wife rather quickly lost patience with fertility doctors and turned to Chinese herbalists. To this day, she gives them the credit for our success at adding two healthy kids to the family.)
The husband in this story is presented only from Amanda’s perspective. Often he appears maddeningly indifferent, in a way that female readers may find familiar. But all that is forgotten whenever he shows that in his own way he too feels frustrated, and especially so when Amanda commits mistakes of her own.
Amanda is mostly reasonable. She acknowledges, at least on an intellectual level, that her failure to conceive is not the greatest tragedy in the world. That point needs to be made. I recall visiting Internet discussion boards where some folks posting on the subject did indeed seem to think there was no point in continuing to live if they couldn’t have a child of their own. Such folks might appreciate a recent article in The Atlantic that questions “that unspoken yearning for that perfect life that has been promised to us by … someone?”
This first novel by Marcela Mendez is an impressive piece of work. The writing and general quality are head and shoulders above most other debut efforts I’m seeing these days. The only shortcoming I saw was a tendency to overstate points–to dramatize a situation clearly enough and then to continue with unnecessary summary of what has happened. But perhaps, being as familiar as I am with the subject, I needed less explanation than other readers.
Stephen Gallup is the author of a memoir, What About the Boy? A Father’s Pledge to His Disabled Son. He blogs at fatherspledge.com.