Will Eleanor get an abortion, get her man back, get murdered -- or not?
COLUMBIA, 3/5/13 (Review) --
If Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid
were running for President, his 608-page semi-autobiographical novel, Only Daughters
, would provide plenty of fodder. In the 2013 race for re-election, his book might still raise a few brows.
With a pro-life message wrapped between the sheets of crime, mayhem, illness, passion, and a heavy dose of guys-know-best paternalism, the 2006 novel
features heroine Eleanor Rawlings
, a 34-year-old Chicago physician whose once-dream husband Peter vanishes after the Feds indict him for a Madoff-esque financial crime (presciently written three years before Bernie Madoff
"Abandoned just as she conceives, Eleanor battles to reshape her life while her pregnancy advances," a plot synopsis explains. "She confronts her risk of Down Sydrome and must decide whether to pursue testing and abort the only baby she will ever have."
To get to the story -- which is engaging -- readers must trod through all manner of OB/GYN terminology: "Clomiphene citrate," "ovulation induction," "reproductive endocrinology," "hysterosalpingogram," "Fallopian tubes," "intrauterine insemination," "capacitation," "zona pellucida," and "ligand-induced acrosome reaction."
The Mayor's habit of repeatedly using full names (Carmen Olivares-Leclerc this, Carmen Olivares-Leclerc that) is also distracting. A simple "he said, she said" would suffice, especially for a book whose central theme is the question, "Will she or won't she?"
The book's cover features an ultrasound picture of an unborn infant, with a promise that Rawlings' story "challenges contemporary views of pregnancy." To do the challenging, Mayor McDavid offers controversial voices in the pro-life/pro-choice debate.
"I think abortion is wrong. I think abortion is killing babies," obstetrician-gynecologist Liam O'Connor, a friend of Rawlings father, explains to Eleanor. "I feel like abortion is tolerated because the baby can disappear through that twelve millimeter tubing. Nobody has to see it. Out of sight, out of mind."
When Eleanor disagrees, O'Connor -- who changed his ways after performing "a few hundred abortions" -- insists that if women seeking abortions were forced to watch the procedure on ultrasound, they might change their minds, too. "Each patient would see what we see," he says. "The heart. The arms and legs. The moving and the kicking. And then she'd see the baby disappear into the tubing. Suddenly gone."
Eleanor objects further, so O'Connor compares abortion to the death penalty. Those who object to capital punishment but support abortion (like she does) are "inconsistent," he says. "We, as a profession, are simply hiding the reality. We're not being honest," Liam tells her. "I've got a lot of blood on my hands."
Men in chutes
With Only Daughters, McDavid is writing what he knows. Like Eleanor, he's an obstetrician-gynecologist. Like Eleanor's father Herb Jenson, McDavid chaired a hospital board that helped stave off financial disaster. Like McDavid's life, the novel's plot is much concerned with delivering babies.
And like his tenure on the Columbia City Council, powerful men don't allow the book's female characters much independence. Women who stake out independent positions -- most notably broadcast news reporter and Rawlings antagonist Adrienne Richards -- McDavid portrays as conniving bitches.
With husband Peter on the lam, Eleanor meanwhile faces a skyfall of male saviors, parachuting to her rescue.
They variously include her pharmacist father Herb Jenson, "a hospital trustee who brokered a deal to save the struggling hospital," which -- like Boone Hospital under McDavid's watch
-- ended up with a new tower; Dr. Ernesto Olivares, mentor and editor of the "International Journal of Fertility and Reproductive Endocrinology"; Terrence Cannon with the FBI; Fred Tanaka the hospital chief; and Liam O'Connor, the handsome physician.
"Daddy, they're saying terrible things about Peter," Eleanor confides to her father after her husband's indictment. Visiting her fictional hometown of Burlington, Missouri, Eleanor goes from big city doctor to frightened little girl. It's never Herb or Dad, but "Daddy" to her.
Torn about the role of women in leadership, McDavid's novel depicts Eleanor Rawlings as valedictorian, cross country star, accomplished musician, student body leader, and champion basketball player growing up. But as a successful big city physician she regresses, as in this scene where she asks herself what she did to prompt her husband's financial crimes, marital cheating, and disappearance.
"Why did Peter leave me? Have I failed him as a companion? Have I not been a good lover? I have never, ever declined him. Was it the infertility? Is that why Peter left? Am I here alone because of the donor inseminations?"
Eleanor's endless self-pity is inconsistent with the smart woman Mayor McDavid wants us to believe she is. "Peter left because he got arrested for stealing $60 million. You're alone because Peter is running from the law." That's how a smart woman would answer those questions, but not Eleanor.
"I must find Peter. I must make things better," she says to herself, even after she learns her husband was sleeping with his assistant. "Our plan and our future cannot be derailed. Peter and I must not fail."
After her pity party about Peter, Eleanor's father makes an unusual offer that only enables more regressing.
"How about we go back to your room and I tuck you in? Just like the old days," he says. "He pulled the covers up to Eleanor's chin and put an old, ragged brown Teddy bear named 'Buddy' in her bed. Buddy was a true friend since Eleanor's third birthday. She cradled Buddy in her arms and fell to sleep."
What about S-E-X?
Only Daughters has multiple murders and guys riding to the rescue, but McDavid added plenty of Chic Lit for those summer days at the beach.
"She and Liam kissed one another in the soft passion of two lovers meeting after a long absence."
"As Liam felt passion spread throughout his body...Eleanor reached under his scrubs top, and her hand passed over his flank and caressed his chest."
Oh my, Mr. Mayor!
"She softly kissed his chest and slid astride him. She kissed his chin, his nose, and then his lips again. To her surprise, he..." Cliffhanger alert:
If you want to know what surprised her, who got murdered, and what happens to Eleanor, you'll have to buy the book
Meanwhile, will Columbia collectively blush, having replaced the uber-liberal bike-riding Darwin Hindman with an uber-conservative romance novelist?