The Nearness of You
I’ve read and enjoyed Amanda Eyre Ward’s books in the past, and so was very excited to see The Nearness of You up for review. The synopsis intrigued me, and I settled in for what I was sure would be a captivating read. Unfortunately, not all my expectations were met.
Suzette and Hyland Kendall have been married for fifteen years when Hyland suddenly confesses his yearning for a child. Early on in their relationship, Suzette explained to him why motherhood simply wasn’t on the cards for her. Her mother is extremely mentally ill and living out her days in an institution; and Suzette is afraid of passing on those genes to any children she might have. Hyland seemed to understand and agree initially, but now, he’s come to Suzette with a new plan. What if they have a baby with the help of a surrogate? Suzette is understandably uncertain at first. She and Hyland have a good life together, and she’s not sure there’s room for a child. She’s a successful heart surgeon, and Hyland is an architect. Having a child would change everything, and Suzette worries the change might not be for the better.
Finally though, she agrees to Hyland’s proposal, and the Kendalls embark on the search for the perfect surrogate mother. They eventually settle on Dorothy (Dorrie) Muscarello, a twenty-one year-old woman looking for a way to escape her troubled past. The author never fully explains what is so bad about Dorrie’s life up until this point, other than the fact her mother doesn’t have a lot of money and Dorrie dreams of something more. This made it difficult for me to identify with her character and I wanted more insight into her motivations.
Almost as soon as Dorrie learns she’s pregnant with Hyland’s child, she changes her mind. She decides she can’t possibly give up her baby, even though she’s signed legal papers saying she’ll do just that. She decides to run away, setting in motion a series of events that will haunt her, Suzette, and Hyland for years to come.
The style of the novel could prove distracting for some readers. We see things from various points of view, with Suzette’s and Hyland’s chapters told in the third person while Dorrie’s portions are written in first person and look like diary entries. When we hear from Eloise, the daughter Dorrie gives birth to, it’s also in first person, but she is speaking directly to the reader, rather than journaling. There were times I wished Ms. Eyre Ward had been more consistent, as the constant switching from first person to third person is jarring.
Suzette is perhaps the most well-drawn character in the novel. She practically lives for her work, perhaps as a way to forget about her horrible childhood. Ms. Eyre Ward does a fabulous job with the complex emotions that exist for mothers everywhere, showing how Suzette wrestles constantly with what it really means to be a mother; and these are some of the book’s most moving passages.
But there are some ‘ticks’ in the writing that are quite annoying, such as the author’s constant use of the word “said”. Someone is always “saying” something. There is nothing wrong with changing things up a bit, using words like replied, answered, responded, etc., but Ms. Eyre Ward rarely does this. For a while, I made a mental note of how many times the word “said” was used, but lost track somewhere around chapter twelve.
I really enjoyed the portions of the book told from Eloise’s point of view. She’s a very mixed up young lady, struggling to understand how it is that she has two mothers and one father. She’s sure she’s unwanted by them all, and starts dabbling with drugs and alcohol to dull the pain. When this is discovered, all three of her parents are forced to examine the choices they’ve made in hopes of helping their daughter heal.
I wanted a little more from the end of the book. We’re left not really knowing how things turn out for the various characters so I would have liked an epilogue set a year or so after the end of the last chapter, just so I could feel like the story was complete.
Despite the above criticisms, I really did enjoy The Nearness of You. The writing is lyrical and poignant, and the emotions felt by the characters seemed incredibly real. But it might have benefited from being a little longer, so a few things could have been more fleshed out. For these reasons, I can only give it a qualified recommendation.