Jennifer Weiner's ninth novel, Then Came You, follows four women on a journey that begins with an egg (or rather, a cluster of them).
Beautiful Princeton student Jules sells her pedigreed ova so she can send her father to rehab; frazzled, stay-at-home mom Annie chooses to be a pregnancy surrogate so she can get her family out of debt and move her life beyond the mundaneness of darning socks and watching the house crumble into disrepair.
Meanwhile, India (not her real name) is a reinvented trophy wife who longs for a child with her older, exceptionally rich husband, Marcus Croft. And Bettina, the spanner in the works, is a stepdaughter who wants to expose her stepmother as a fraud before India can conjure up another heir to the Croft fortune, however indirectly. Through it all is Weiner's signature wit, laid gently and successfully over these ultimately sad realities.
Then Came You is a perfect summer read, complete with soap opera-like vignettes, romance and fantasy. Example: After India lands her big-fish billionaire, she moves into his two-storey apartment overlooking Central Park that's equipped with stunning luxuries, including an "immense closet with specially designed shelves, motorized racks and cubbies to hold everything from scarves to handbags to suitcases and hats, and padded benches where I could sit to put on my shoes."
Despite the seduction of that closet, however, I found I wanted more. Not necessarily a discussion of moral philosophy on a hazy afternoon, but perhaps a slightly deeper dip into the ethical and emotional pool behind modern reproductive science.
On a less intellectual level, I longed to know why, aside from India's fake breasts and jiggle-free thighs, Marcus fell so in love with her - and what she ended up finding so compelling about him, other than his pots of money and the fact that he catered to her every whim. (Although, now that I write it down, those do seem like rather compelling reasons to fall for a man …) And the book could have done with a scene showing Bettina and her father truly connecting, to provide insight into why, other than the obvious reasons, his happiness was such a distraction to her. But Jules and Annie rang true, engagingly portrayed as women at different life stages - one with the world at her feet, the other dreaming of a life that may already have passed her by at the age of 24 - who are driven by longings that are palpable to the reader.
At the novel's close, all is resolved in an improbable but heart-warming fashion that only a person sitting in a deck chair with an afternoon glow on could accept - and which the actual parties involved probably would not, were they flesh and blood. Perhaps the point of this book is simply to be an enjoyable read. But I don't think so. Weiner has declared, publicly and often, that she wants her books, and the books of all female writers, to be taken just as seriously as those written by male writers. I'm no literary snob (okay, fine, I can be, but only in certain company and mostly out of self-defence), but for a novel dealing with weighty issues, this one likely would have floated, had I thrown it off the Muskoka dock where I was reading. I wish it were different, but I'm quite certain this book is not going to be the one to help bridge the literary gender gap.
Marissa Stapley-Ponikowski is a Toronto writer and commercial women's fiction enthusiast who would burst into tears if she, or anyone else, actually threw the book she was reading off a dock.