About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, October 17, 2011

#81: Chosen

Chosen, by Chandra Hoffman (New York: Harper, 2010)

"It all begins with a fantasy: the caseworker in her 'signing paperwork' charcoal suit standing alongside beaming parents cradling their adopted newborn, set against a fluorescent-lit delivery-room backdrop. It's this blissful picture that keeps Chloe Pinter, director of the Chosen Child's domestic-adoption program, happy while juggling the high demands of her boss and the incessant needs of both adoptive and biological parents.

"But the very job that offers her refuge from her turbulent personal life and Portland's winter rains soon becomes a battleground involving three very different couples: the Novas, well-off college sweethearts who suffered fertility problems but are now expecting their own baby; the McAdoos, a wealthy husband and desperate wife for whom adoption is a last chance; and Jason and Penny, an impoverished couple who have nothing -- except the baby everyone wants. When a child goes missing, dreams dissolve into nightmares, and everyone is forced to examine what he or she really wants and where it all went wrong."

Opening Line:
"Chloe Pinter is trying to develop a taste for coffee."

My Take:
A not-too-silly fun read; no more, no less. What makes it more compelling than it might otherwise be is its subject matter; I've read plenty of chick lit about pregnancy and new parenthood, but don't remember any other fiction about the domestic adoption scene. The details here are interesting; sometimes funny, sometimes a bit sketchy if they're legit, which I suspect they are -- Hoffman's bio includes a stint as the director of a U.S. adoption program.

For the most part, the picture Chosen paints of birth parents isn't a flattering one. Jason and Penny, whose newborn son Francie and John McAdoo adopt, are not only poor, but ex-cons, and while we might forgive Penny (herself the victim of a heinous rape and assault long before the book opens) her single conviction for check fraud, Jason is a career criminal and sociopath. Most of the other birth parents Chloe and her clients reflect upon aren't quite this bad, but are nonetheless out to milk the system for all it's worth. Not long after Eva Nova gives birth to her own son, she muses about what might have become of Amber, the birth mother whose daughter she and husband Paul had hoped to adopt before Eva became pregnant:
"[A] year earlier, Amber, a pudgy thirteen-year-old birth mother, her own mother only twenty-eight, had chosen the Novas as the adoptive parents for her own baby. Chloe Pinter had arranged their first meeting at a Red Lobster, an obese pair of slow-blinking, loud-chewing women. Paul's tounge-tied comment, 'You could be sisters,' had offended them equally. They had strung the agency along for six months, huge expensive meals, dragging Chloe through the grocery store for hours. Chloe told Eva and Paul that Amber and her mother had each pushed a cart filled with Doritos, jumbo boxes of Froot Loops, doughnuts, crumb cakes."
At the same time, Paul muses silently that they're way better off without Amber's baby:
"It had surprised him how quickly he had gotten on board with the concept of adoption. ... But when adoption was presented in the specific, in the form of the gum-smacking Amber, Paul can admit to himself that he was shaken. He had felt such relief when it was over, no longer worried about their half-wit, sleepy-eyed Baby Huey of a daughter who would be knocked up at age twelve herself, nature's triumph over nurture."
Later, Chloe has an excruciating lunch meeting with Debra, a pregnant exotic dancer who boasts "two kids at home, two adopted out, and a couple I knew early enough about to take care of," admits to not just drinking alcohol but taking crystal meth during her pregnancy, and insists that she be paid enough to take her kids to Disneyland after the baby is born. If it weren't for Heather, the Good Birth Mom who happens to live near Penny and Jason, this would seem a little classist; as it is, it just kinda makes you wonder.

The adoptive parents fare a bit better in Hoffman's hands, but their portrayal isn't exactly glowing, either. The Novas are mostly decent people (sure, Eva struggles with postpartum depression after Wyeth's birth, and Paul comes this close to an affair), but the McAdoos, not so much; Francie seems way more interested in maintaining her online friendships and picking out the perfect nursery furniture than actually spending time with her new son, and John's frequent business trips to Singapore eventually prove to be a cover for other, less family-friendly hobbies.

Oddly, probably the one character who seemed least real or interesting to me was the main character, Chloe. I do appreciate that her relationship with boyfriend Dan is a complicated one, neither perfect nor across-the-board awful. Sure, they met cute/ slutty and moved in together way too soon; yes, Dan's dream of starting his own surfing business in Hawaii seems a little impulsive ... but Hoffman avoids presenting him as a complete ass, too. I'm not 100% thrilled with how their story line wraps up -- let's just say it involves some abrupt changes in personalities and priorities that didn't quite ring true to me -- but this didn't prevent me from mostly enjoying the book.

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