Monday, July 14, 2008

Baby Proof by Emily Giffin

Emily Giffin's Baby Proof tells the story of Claudia and Ben, a couple at a cross-roads. Happily married for a few years, Claudia finds her marriage disintegrating because both have different views on having children. She feels betrayed because they both agreed early on in their relationship that they would be child-free, but the recent birth of a friend's baby has a shift in priorities for Ben. The book chronicles the end of their marriage and Claudia picking up the pieces of her life after the divorce. 

Giffin writes in first person, which has its place in fiction. The problem with first person is that it can be bogged down in narrative, causing the book to plod along. Many times I wonder if there is a point to Claudia's reminisces, and eventually there is, but the writing could have been done more cleanly. She spends over two pages talking about her relationship with her best friend, from when they met at Princeton (an Ivy-League education is a must for a Giffin-girl), all the way up until the present. Her interior monologues are also extensive, mostly Claudia waxing nostalgic or trying to put her thoughts in gear. While that is realistic, it only serves to slow the story down. One example is when Claudia is talking to a new man in her life about different types of facial hair--the soul patch vs. the goatee. Right in the middle of the conversation, interrupting the flow of their dialog: (p. 140) 
I describe the difference, pointing to my chin. Richard nods, looking enlightened. I am reminded of my favorite facial hair story. Years ago, Michael was in a mustache-growing contest with another guy at work. Michael was badly losing, and to demonstrate this point over lunch, he nodded toward a girl named Sally whom he actually had a minor crush on and said, "Even Sally would kick my ass." He was trying to be funny, but unfortunately, Sally was a dark-haired Italian and one of those girls who waxes her upper lip. Sally was horrified and humiliated, as was Michael when he realized his slip. I tell Richard the story now, and he laughs.

She also spends  a page describing Daphne's love for the cheesy and adolescent (p. 152-153). A reference to stuffed animals and Britney Spears would have been plenty enough for me to understand that point. And yet, when she and Richard have sex for the first time, all the reader gets is, "Moments later, Richard and I are having sex" (p. 160). Woo-woo. 

The book is also loaded with "baby talk". The reader already knows that Claudia doesn't want one and Ben does, but there is more. Their best friends, Ray and Annie, have a son who is the catalyst for the change. Claudia's sister Daphne and her husband have been trying unsuccessfully for years to have a child and conversations about her fertility treatments. Her other sister has three kids and a philandering husband. Her best friend Jess is seeing a married man and my be pregnant. In fact, one of the best moments of the book is when they all get together for her birthday and things become tense very quickly. For Claudia, everyone seems to be talking about babies when she has made a huge decision regarding not having babies. It's like the fact that I have a cat, I notice the neighborhood cats more often. I'm more attuned to them. Likewise, these issues have constantly been in Claudia's life, but since they are mirroring her own problems, she is more sensitive to them. 

I had a really tough time liking the characters in the book. All of Giffin's characters are Ivy-League educated and have spectacular jobs in New York. They wear designer clothes. They have huge Manhattan apartments or houses in the suburbs. Their main issues are their relationships. I have a hard time liking Claudia, mostly because when the chips are down, she runs. When she and Ben have their first real fight about children, she leaves, moves in with her best friend, and gets a divorce attorney. There are no moments when the two of them attempt counseling to see what is the real issue underlying their problems, or IF there is an issue. Yet, later in the book, Claudia seems to have twisted things: 
I sit at my desk... wondering whether Ben would have left if I had been diagnosed with a serious illness. If I had only a few years left to live. Or, if I couldn't conceive--as opposed to being unwilling to do so. I can't imagine Ben leaving me under any of those circumstances. So how could he leave simply because I didn't want kids? I wasn't throwing hardship at him; I just wanted things to stay the same. Couldn't my husband just love me enough to stay?

WTH? Claudia was the one that left, she was the one that initiated the divorce proceedings. I hate it when I question what happened earlier in the book and I certainly don't want to go back to look to see if I disremembered something. 

Then, when her sister contemplates divorce from the philanderer, Claudia questions if this is a bit quick, if Maura should think about it (p. 276). Perhaps Claudia is thinking of her own experience and wants to impart some wisdom, but I am so sick of her by this point. 

Overall, I found this book to be disappointing and a slow read. I rate it at the B-/C+ range. 

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