July 19, 2016
Finished: Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner
Then Came You is the story of Jules, a Princeton student who sells her eggs to help her father, Annie, a housewife who dreams of the money and purpose attached to being a surrogate, and 43-year-old India who wants a baby to solidify her stake in her elder husband’s fortune. When Bettina, India’s grown step-daughter, becomes determined to expose India, each woman’s path becomes blurred.
Jennifer Weiner has been one of my besties for years, even if she has no idea who I am! I have loved her snarky humor, sharp intelligence, and down-to-earth relatability since her first book, Good In Bed. When Good In Bed was first released—in trade paperback; she’s been hard cover ever since!—I went to her reading at the very awesome Vero Beach Book Center.
The reading was great, but what I really loved was trailing behind Jen and her mom, Fran, who we fans would come to “know” and love through Jen’s blogs and interviews, as they scanned the aisles of books, and overhearing Jen teasing Fran. “I’ve decided to call you Mother all day. Look Mother, there’s the new John Grisham. I’m thirsty, Mother, let’s get some water.” It was the same comfortable silliness I share with my mom.
At the time, I had recently begun writing my own chick lit novel and fallen head over heels with writing (seriously, my infatuation was such that I was compelled to blare Andrea Bocelli and belt love songs in Italian until I cried, a memory I that is both mortifying and cherished. OK, memories, plural; this went on for weeks), but I wouldn’t be out of the writing closet for, let’s see…thirteen years, so I was way too shy to talk to Jen. During much of those thirteen years, I was sidelined by a crippling struggle to have children, but remained a devoted fan of Jen’s books and blog while she went on to have my dream career. Yes, I am GREEN, at the same time I adore her and am thrilled by her success.
So, like I said, we’re besties, ha ha. Which means when I say Then Came You was not my favorite Jennifer Weiner book, it’s only relative. As always, I loved her familiar, fluid storytelling and her keen observation. But it was hard for me to stomach India, a shallow, self-admitted conniving gold-digger, who sees having a baby as a safeguard to her older husband’s fortune. That she was that way because of her own maternal rejection and unstable childhood, or ended up genuinely loving her husband didn’t make her any more likable, and worse, she took off when she found herself alone again before her baby was born. The whole thing gave a really awful and skewed portrayal of surrogacy, which can be a beautiful, if extremely complicated path to parenthood.
I also cringed at the inaccurate descriptions of the IVF process, such as Jules biking to an egg retrieval surgery for which she was conscious. (You are knocked out for a retrieval and wouldn’t be allowed to drive yourself home, never mind bike, even if you didn’t feel like Mike Tyson had just done a job on your swollen abdomen, which you do.)
Obviously, I am too sensitive regarding fertility for me to love a book in which a lot of it felt mishandled. (Some didn’t. For example, I appreciated Jules’s nagging ambiguity about having donated her eggs, and though I couldn’t relate to Annie and all her kowtowing to her husband (!) which cost her a job at Target, I can imagine some women seeing surrogacy, as she did, as a means to cash that would also be a gift to someone else.)
What I really liked about this book was the love story between Jules and Kimmie, and what I loved most was what I’m sure Jen was going for: in the end, there was a baby with a lot of people to love her. In the end, there are all kinds of ways to make, and be, a family.
In the end, I still love my bestie Jen. If only she’d come back to Vero now so we could actually meet!