Lulu, $14.75, ISBN 978-1-4092-5214-6
Contemporary Fiction, 2009
Birth in Suburbia is one of those rare self-published efforts that is marred by very obvious and distracting problems, but I can’t help liking this story all the same. I know, I know, I’m supposed to be this evil harridan with nary a soft spot in my heart, and I certainly am not the kind of women who swoon at the thought of being surrounded by fat pink babies. However, the enthusiasm, the intention, and the earnestness of the author seem to come off from every word, and I find myself smiling as I turn the pages as a result.
The story isn’t anything unusual. We have some friends – Debbie, Liz, and Helen – who are all pregnant. Even more special, their due dates are close. Their other best friend Chrissy isn’t pregnant, but she already has a daughter so she’s more than happy to provide moral support. However, some rather familiar issues arise to create some bumps on the way to the delivery room: suspicions of infidelity committed by the husband, concerns for the future especially in the case of Liz who is unmarried, interference from Mommy Dearest, and such. The author covers all bases when it comes to how and where one can pop out a brat. Caesarian sections, DIY at-home deliveries, and “traditional” hospital deliveries are all featured here.
This one is rather different from the usual “four women with issues” stories I can typically find in women’s fiction. The author, a midwife, adds in some fantastical elements in the form of crones or mysterious earth-mother types dispensing cryptic advice to expectant mothers. She also goes at considerable lengths about the various methods of delivering a baby. I’m sure most men would rather be forced to parade in public wearing only studded leather bustier than to read this book, heh. Perhaps it is inevitable that I find myself liking this story despite the various problems in the story.
The problems of the story, you ask? Oh boy. Firstly, the formatting of this book is all over the place. The indentation of paragraphs is uneven, making it unpleasant on my eyes to read the pages. Secondly, the characterization is rather lacking, what with the women distinguishable only by their issues and names. Thirdly, the author suddenly pops in a new character late in the story, adding to the underdeveloped feel of the whole story. Fourthly, the narrative could be tightened. There are usually at least two female characters sharing a single scene in this story, so there are many moments when the author’s use of “she” and “her” can become quite confusing. And lastly, the author has a tendency to use her characters to preach about the joys of motherhood. Plenty of artificial and stilted conversations result.
Still, there is this… I don’t know, charm, I guess, to the story. There is nothing here that I haven’t read before – and I have read better books featuring such story lines – but I find myself engaged by the author’s narrative nonetheless. While I know the story and the writing have problems galore, I turn the pages nonetheless to find out how these women’s stories will turn out in the end. I’m not sure that the pay-off is worth it, thanks to the abrupt introduction of a new character that disrupts the flow of the story, but I find that this book and its subject matter do have some charming appeal.
Everything about Birth in Suburbia, from its cheap-looking cover art to the formatting issues to its editing woes, marks it as an unfortunate typical example of a self-published effort. However, with some more judicious editing and some rewrites here and there, I suspect that this one could easily be polished up to become a much better book with a ready-made target niche audience.