Saturday, January 9, 2010

Book Review: The Life You Longed For

The Life You Longed For: A NovelI read Maribeth Fischer's The Life You Longed For: A Novel on the plane coming home from Arizona. Thank god I had a window seat and no one was sitting behind us, because I was trying to keep the guy on the aisle from noticing that I was intermittently wiping tears from my eyes. What can I say? Besides being a well-written medical drama, this story got into my head and my fears.

From the back cover:
Grace's son Jack is a miracle. At three years old, he's fighting a mysterious, deadly disease that his doctors predicted would kill him as a baby. Even though it was determined to be mitochondrial disease, the little-known illness remains a mystery to medicine. Grace has sat by his besdie every minute he has been in the hospital, questioned every diagnosis, every medicine--even poring over medical journals and books at home late into the night. To the world, Grace's fierce dedication is the sole reason for her son's survival. But Grace, "the perfect mother", has a secret. And when an allegation of Muchausen syndrome by proxy is leveled against her, it threatens to blow the lid off the secret she's been keeping and tear her family apart.

One thing I loved about this novel, strange as this may be to say, is the actual information gained from reading. Fischer obviously put much thought and research into this work; she says in an interview in the back of the book that this is the result of five years of reading on the various subjects, and it shows. I learned things I did not know before about birds, Munchausen syndrome by proxy, and the Salem Witch Trials.  Of course it's all about the story, but as well as a good story, I was glad to come away having learned something.

Some of the things the main character, Grace, does are difficult to understand as a reader. So I think Fischer has a skillful voice, in that she makes Grace sympathetic and accessible. The pacing and plotting of this book is strong, and secondary characters are interesting and well-constructed. I especially loved Grace's friend, the historian Kempley. I liked Kempley's perspective on the world -- she injects some especially thought-provoking ideas about history and Munchausen syndrome by proxy. I'm not sure I agree with her, but I liked being prompted to think about some of the issues.

So that speaks to the technical aspects of the novel, but what had me getting all misty-eyed in my airline seat? This book plays on two of my biggest fears about ever having children: the fear of having a sick child and having to watch them suffer, and possibly even die, and the fear of ever facing a bogus CPS complaint.  There were times reading this book when I closed it for a second and thought, "My god, I'm terrified of having children."  This novel makes what Grace and her family suffers seems very real. It wasn't the most enjoyable book I ever read, for just that reason, but it was certainly touching.

This is book #4 for the 2010 Book Challenge I'm doing -- check it out!

1 comment:

Jenn (Books At Midnight) said...

The Saturday Network

Thank you for participating! And great review. 5 years of hard work certainly sounds like it paid off. :)