There's a line in Jennifer Weiner's Then Came You that sort of buzzes with irony. A fertility clinic director tells one of the book's four main characters: "I'm so sorry. In all the years of operating the clinic, we've never had a situation like this."
The character thinks: "I believed her. Who could have even imagined a situation like this one?"
The answer, of course, is chick-lit's blockbuster writer, Weiner, best-known for the bestsellers Good in Bed and In Her Shoes. She imagined the situation completely. But what makes the line especially interesting is that even though the turn of events in the story is pretty crazy, it's just crazy enough to ring true, truth often being stranger than fiction.
But let's start at the beginning. Who are the four women at the heart of this book?
We first meet Jules, a beautiful young student set to graduate from Princeton University, although she feels a bit like an outsider there. She's approached by a representative from the fertility clinic looking for prospects to donate their eggs.
We then learn about Annie, a young wife in the suburbs of Philadelphia who is struggling to make ends meet with two kids, a century-old farmhouse and a husband who works security at the airport. Annie needs money and sees surrogacy as a possible partial answer to her problems.
Then there's Bettina, a Vassar-educated trust-fund girl from Manhattan, who is sure that her father's new wife has married him simply to fleece him of his millions.
And finally, Weiner introduces readers to India, the trophy wife who has indeed married Bettina's father for his money and is trying to secure her relationship with him and his cash by providing him with a child, though she is physically unable to produce that child herself.
Four women. One baby.
What's fun about this book is that it's not obvious where this will all lead.
Weiner takes readers through the next nine months in the characters' bumpy lives, providing for each lots of back story to show us how they ended up in their rather unfortunate circumstances. In the course of these narratives, the four women, of course, become more sympathetic and likable. As a showdown between Bettina and India becomes especially intense, and you know they can't both end up with what they want because their interests conflict, it's hard to choose sides.
What works then about this novel is Weiner's ability to present a situation from four distinct points of view, carefully leading the reader through lots of emotional territory. The plot flies along, pleasantly twisting and turning.
Not everything about Weiner's narrative choice is successful, though. Trying to create four fully developed protagonists is difficult, especially in a novel that runs fewer than 340 pages. The first few times Weiner returned to Annie's story I struggled a bit to remember the details of her life and why I was supposed to care about her. Compared with India's scandelicious past, Jules' tragic parents and Bettina's penthouse sarcasm, Annie is pretty darn dull. Plot, in this case, appears to trump character development.
But a good plot is a good thing. Then Came You is a welcome step above much of chick-lit's predictable standard fare. This is a smart look at the emotional side of surrogacy, with all its highs and lows. Readers may ultimately forget some of the characters and their unique motivations, but Weiner has created a memorable and chat-worthy plot.
Catherine Mallette, 817-390-7828