Tomorrow by Graham Swift
I like Graham Swift but I didn’t like this book. I’ll have to explain what’s suspenseful about the novel in order to explain why I didn’t like it so if you don’t want to know stop reading.
The novel is a middle-of-the-night monologue—more like an all night monologue—by Paula Campbell Hook, addressed to her twins a week after their 16th birthday when, she starts out by saying, she and her husband have decided to tell them something likely to shake up their lives and possibly to break up the family. One assumes at first that the parents are breaking up, but that doesn’t make sense since she says that a week after their 16th birthday was a date they settled on a long time ago for this revelation.
The big secret turns out to be that they were conceived by artificial insemination by donor sperm, and their father is not really their father. Paula basically tells the story of her love for Mike and their lives up until that moment. The voice is authentic; the narrative very well done, but the significance escapes me. I don’t understand why they didn’t tell everyone at the time and their children long before age 16. I really don’t understand why she’s worried that the twins will feel their world is so turned upside down and themselves so betrayed that they’ll leave. Anger, she might reasonably expect, but hardly total rejection, especially in the light of the fact that up until this moment of truth it had been a pretty happy household.
So, the premise for me being so flimsy, Swift’s skill in executing it just isn’t enough. It’s not even enough to say that pregnancy with donor sperm was unusual enough in 1979 (when the twins were born) to have called forth this much angst. It’s 1995 when the great revelation is due after all.
I’m sure my outlook on this subject is colored by the fact that four of my seven grandchildren were adopted (and not the biological child of either parent), in open adoptions where, if the birth parents are interested (not all are), there is regular contact and where the children themselves knew from a very young age. Parenting trumps eggs and sperm every time and will, I’m sure, for Paula’s children as well—though we never find out.