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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review: Baby Proof

Baby Proof
by Emily Giffin

First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes…a baby carriage? Isn’t that what all women want?

Not so for Claudia Parr. And just as she gives up on finding a man who feels the same way, she meets warm, wonderful Ben. Things seem too good to be true when they fall in love and agree to buck tradition with a satisfying, child-free marriage. Then the unexpected occurs: one of them has a change of heart. One of them wants children after all.

This is the witty, heartfelt story about what happens to the perfect couple when they suddenly want different things. It’s about feeling that your life is set and then realizing that nothing is as you thought it was – and that there is no possible compromise. It’s about deciding what is most important in life, and taking chances to get it. But most of all, it’s about the things we will do – and won’t do – for love.

I was disappointed in this novel. The back blurb suggests Baby Proof is a story about what brings, and keeps, two people together, and what happens when people change their minds in a relationship. The novel does explore these issues, but in a shallow, superficial way. Claudia and Ben meet, fall in love, marry, and divorce by the end of the first chapter. At first happy to discover a soul mate who feels the same way about not having children, these characters quickly find that, when Ben changes his mind, all bets are off, and they are not compatible after all.

The rest of the novel falls into typical chick lit fare: Claudia works in a New York publishing house (of course) and, post-divorce, dips her toes into the dating pool with the help of her best friend Jess (a brainy blonde bombshell) and co-worker Michael (the requisite good-looking best friend; at least he isn’t gay). What follows are Claudia’s discoveries that yes, it’s rough to start over with someone new, and no, it’s not easy to replace the person you promised to cherish forever. She drinks too much, pines for Ben too much, and feels sorry for herself too much.

By the end of the book, Claudia has done some major self-reflection and decided she needs to compromise in ways she never thought she would, all for the love of a man. While her personal growth does have a few touching and redeeming moments, overall I think readers will either find her character too self-centered to really like, or too superficial to really identify with.

Giffin does an admirable job in trying to explore what parenthood means to different people, and the life-changing impact that becoming parents has on a couple. But ultimately, I think she falls short in really delving into the tough decision of whether or not to have a child.

The subplots of Baby Proof involve Claudia’s sisters and her close friends and focus on the issues of infertility, infidelity, and the meaning of motherhood. I did like many of the minor characters that brought these subplots to life. And certainly, the novel is well written: humorous and touching and even painfully acute in its discussion of heartbreak. The ending, however, provides no closure to the book’s central issue; perhaps Giffin deliberately chooses to leave Ben and Claudia in limbo to emphasize the enormity of the baby decision. To me, though, it just felt like a letdown after 300 pages of reading about their seesawing relationship.

I won’t write Giffin off completely; I’d like to read her novels Something Borrowed and Something Blue, both of which have gotten rave reviews. I just wish that Baby Proof had more substance and faced the “child vs. childfree” life decision with more teeth.

Review by Dandelion