Sunday, April 10, 2011

Perhaps one of the Ultimate Pressures on Friendship: The Question by Zena Wynn

Friendship is a connection between human beings that many take very much for granted without realizing that there are levels of friendship that may not be able to sustain some of the pressures individuals place on that relationship. What most people consider to be the most intimate connection--the marriage relationship--is often not based on a true friendship at all, and when the issues surrounding some circumstances begin to become overwhelming, that relationship caves.

Such was the configuration that is at the heart of the story Zena Wynn has written that is loosely based on the ancient Biblical story of Abraham and Sarah's desire for a child, and Abraham's finding a way to provide that child for his wife by bringing her handmaiden, Hagar, into the mix. As mother of Abraham's oldest son, Ishmael, she was certainly prized for having given Abraham a son, but the old green-eyed monster was alive and well in Sarah's heart, and when still a child, Ishmael and his mother were turned out of their home and sent into the desert to try to survive under very difficult circumstances. In this novel the author brings the main characters into the scenario where one best friend, Crystal, asks her friend Gail, a widow whose husband and son were killed in an auto accident, to be the surrogate mother for her and her husband. Crystal has suffered through five miscarriages, and now her burning desire was to give her husband a child of his own sperm. In spite of her misgivings and her sense that this was going to emotionally backfire somehow, Gail agrees, and after the legalities are finalized, she is artificially inseminated.

Rashid, Crystal's husband was a wealthy Arab-American, a man who valued his wife's life and was unwilling to put her health at risk any further. Thus he agreed to Crystal's insistence on the surrogacy as he had known Gail and her husband Jason. He was delighted to find out that Gail was carrying twins--a son and daughter--and gave his attention and time to overseeing her health and progress in the pregnancy, especially when she encountered some serious problems due to extended morning sickness. Slowly but surely, the green-eyed monster took up residence in Crystal's heart, slowly withdrawing from the circle of support for Gail, becoming caustic and sarcastic at what was being done for her friend, until she eventually disappeared just a few weeks before the birth of the twins. Instead of Crystal's presence as Gail's coach during the long hours of labor and delivery, it was Rashid who stood by, encouraging, supporting and pouring strength into Gail when her own strength was just about gone.

Also present in this messy mix is an attorney, Greg, a co-worker of Gail's who has long desired to be in a relationship with her, but had stepped way back while she was mourning the death of her husband and son. At about the mid-point in her pregnancy, Gail and Greg began to date but refrained from sleeping together--Gail really has issues with sleeping with one man while carrying the babies of another. Yet their attachment grew into a serious love relationship and they planned to marry when Gail was released by her obstetrician following the babies' birth.

This book is about real life--messy and brimming with surprises and disappointments, challenges and difficulties mixed in with the joys of welcoming two beautiful new human beings into the world. But as I have often commented: life is messy. All this time Crystal is missing and while Rashid has expended serious money to find her, she remains hidden. Gail's determination to remain emotional aloof from the babies--after all, they are Crystal & Rashid's--somehow falls by the wayside when she is required to nurse her daughter since the little girl has an allergy to all other forms of nourishment. Greg and Gail must postpone their wedding for an additional six months.

This novel has the sense about it from the very beginning that somehow all this just wasn't going to be all grand and glorious as Crystal portrayed it. Too many feelings, too many ways for people to make some serious errors in judgment, too many opportunities for envy and hard feelings to come to the surface. It is a story that is filled with the realities of individuals working for the best of these two kids but finding themselves bound into relationships that are uncomfortable and in the case of Greg and Gail, just never seemed to be free of the stresses caused by the demands of the circumstances. Love just didn't seem to be able to conquer all in some instances. And as is so often the case, the push-pull of all this stress put Crystal's marriage and her long-standing friendship with Gail in serious danger.

I like novels that put the reader smack dab in the middle of reality. I know we read often to escape from the harsh realities of our own lives, but in novels such as this one, the reader is given a chance to experience the choices and consequences in these circumstances and relationships, and perhaps that is what gives them a sense of value--teaching readers what can and often does happen in real life. There have been very successful surrogate relationships but there have been some consummate disasters as well. The author as crafted a story that exposes the possibilities in the scenarios as well as explored the inner struggles of the characters as they try, for the most part, to have mature responses to the challenges before them.

I have read a number of Zena Wynn's books and found them to be interesting and lots of fun. I don't think this is a fun novel per se, but it certainly was one that forced me to think outside my own comfort zone, and because of that I found it to be a book that had great value for me. Ms Wynn has a very readable writing style, tells the story in a way to moves the reader along beautifully, without overpopulating the story and keeping sufficient internal monologues in the narrative without overwhelming the action of the story. (Interminable internal monologues are one of my pet peeves!!). I highly recommend this novel to lovers of contemporary romance and who like a story that is based on a relational configuration of great significance and one that is replicated in modern life. I give this book a 4.75 out of 5 rating.

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