What is the source of the book's appeal? At 39 years old, the author Mary faced the all-too-common question of why she stayed single while her friends and siblings made it to the altar. When Mary became unexpectedly pregnant, her reaction was to keep the baby, but not the father. The father, despite his washboard abs, lacked ambition and, as he quietly confided, had no "J-O-B." Scarred by his parents' divorce, he had little hope in his own future. Nonetheless, he badly wanted Mary to keep the baby and was willing to help her as much as he could. They ultimately stumbled their way to a co-parenting arrangement that suited them both.
The book taps into a cultural zeitgeist of wish-fulfillment. Over 40 with no husband and no children? You, too, can get pregnant (even if it's on a one-night-stand with a man more than 10 years your junior), and everything will be fine. You'll have a baby and an involved father who won't control you or burden you. You can have your happy ending without the responsibilities of marriage or heartbreak of divorce. The target audience for this macabre modern fairy tale is huge. According to 2012 Census Statistics, about 40% of people over the age of 35 are unmarried. Moreover, the most recent data pegs the number of single parent households at over 14 million. There are a lot of unmarried almost 40-year-olds and a lot of single parents who want to hear that everything will be okay.
The book is the author's way of coming to terms with a turbulent and difficult period of her life. In convincing herself that everything turned out for the best, she succeeds half-way in convincing us. What could have been a tale of whiny self-justification instead touches on a nationwide problem of well-educated, professional women in their 40s who are childless and unmarried -- not by choice.
You can't help wondering why this woman who presents herself so attractively in words hasn't gotten married when she claims that's what she wants for herself. It's tempting to blame her habit of premarital sex, but many people who have sex before marriage go on to get married anyway. It's tempting to blame her focus on career, but careerwomen get married, too. More than these two things, what seeps through the narrative is her attitude of objectifying men and finding them good enough for sex, perhaps, but not much else.
The author relates the following conversation with herself:
"I should probably stop sleeping with beautiful young guys," the sensible me told myself. "But I like sleeping with beautiful young guys," I said back. "Yes, but it's not the path to settling down."She asked the father of her child for a friendship, and then a friendship with sexual benefits, but wouldn't sign a lease with him because she considered him a rent risk. The clear message she sent him was that he was only good for one thing. She sums it up succinctly, "of course, I was using him."
Nevertheless, when faced with a situation in which many would choose abortion, these two imperfect parents chose life. The author Mary grew up as the youngest child of Catholic parents who were "pro-choice only in theory." Her parents, who had seven children, "didn't have a problem so much with using birth control, just a problem with making it work." Mary's story proves that even a Catholicism that doesn't play by the rulebook can bring some good into the world, and that good is a new human being with a face and a name. Mary's relationship with her son seems far more pure and selfless than her relationship with the father.
The story ends in the middle, so to speak, while the child is still a toddler. I can't help wondering if the story's epilogue isn't as painfully messy as its beginning and its middle. How will the author's son feel about the circumstances of his birth and about his parents' choices? They may not have been able to give him a stable home with two married parents, but they gave him what they could -- they gave him life. And with life, there's hope. Not such a bad fairy tale ending, after all.
Content Advisory: Explicit sexual content, some drug use. Not for everyone.