When we first meet Abigail Thomas —hugely pregnant and unmarried —she has slipped in the street and is collapsing into the arms of Timothy Vail, a handsome young man who’s not the father of her unborn baby but is nevertheless about to become a serious contender for her heart. Sparks fly as Tim hustles Abigail into a nearby coffee shop for a corn muffin and some serious flirtation. Although there are some cultural differences to work out —Tim is of English descent, and Abigail’s a Jewish/Welsh combo —the two become lovers. Yet Abigail secretly carries a torch for the man who got her into her present predicament—and who has no idea she is carrying his child.
That’s the comedy-of-manners- inflected set up for a Great with Child (McWitty Press, $15.99), a novel by Sonia Taitz that can juggle wit, humor and soul with surprising grace. Taitz, the author of, among other things, a non-fiction book on mothering, two previous novels and the highly acclaimed memoir The Watchmaker’s Daughter, charts Abigail’s sometimes bumbling but always charming course.
At the outset, Abigail is pragmatic rather than tender, and her life is governed by facts, not feelings. A high-powered lawyer on track to make partner, she still has her eye on the prize, and does not intend to let her soon-to-be-born baby derail her:
“…Abigail did plan to shunt her future child off on a caretaker…People had relied on ‘help’ for centuries. And what did babies need anyway? How much did it take to keep them out of traffic, feed them, play peekaboo?”
But once baby Chloe arrives, things don’t go according to Abigail’s well-laid plans. That handsome guy who’s so crazy about her? Turns out she’s less than crazy about him. The job that has meant the world to her? Well, maybe the world is infinitely more mysterious and unpredictable than she ever could have imagined, and suddenly Abigail’s job has shrunk radically in its importance. Like it or not, Chloe changes her and she becomes (literally) great, with child.
“By the time life entered the corporate legal arena, it had been packaged and parsed into causes of action, dollars and cents, plaintiff and defendant; these diminished it irrevocably. And by the time the lawyers were done with it, life was unrecognizable as a formerly organic thing. But Chloe —she was life in its purest form.”
Along with Abigail’s story, Taitz introduces a subplot involving Arlie, the 36-year-old Guyanese woman whom Abigail hires as a nanny and with whom she forms an unusual bond. Arlie is the counterpoint to her employer—instinctively intelligent rather than formally educated, calm and measured rather than frenzied and frantic, blunt rather than politic. Yet she is everything that Abigail and Chloe need.
On the surface, the storyline here might sound a bit retro, like support for one of those front-page New York Times studies on how corporate women are turning their backs on their high-powered careers for the joys of motherhood. But Taitz is far more complex than that, and subverts such a quick judgement by giving us a novel that explores Abigail’s journey with subtlety and nuance. And when Abigail finds her rightful place—the one she can truly claim as home—we are laughing and crying, both for her and with her.
Yona Zeldis McDonough