My Real Children
Jo Walton, 2014
Patricia Cowen sees that the note the nurses have written in her chart says “Confused Today.” She’s often confused, from forgetting major events to where she put her glasses. But she also remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children with him. She also remembers rejecting Mark’s proposal and raising three children with Beatrice (Bee). When she looks outside her window, she isn’t sure whether it hosts a benign research station or dozens of nuclear missiles aimed at their planet, ready to start a war. This book tells the story about how one seemingly simple choice can lead to two very different outcomes – both for the person making the choice and for the world as a whole.
**Review contains minor spoilers**
I really enjoyed this book. After a somewhat slow start, I found the story of Patricia Cowen’s lives (plural) to be completely compelling. We know that Patricia’s life started one way, but when she is proposed to by her boyfriend Mark, the choice she makes divides her life into two completely different paths – both of which we’re allowed to follow. Trish – who says “yes” to Mark – has four children, a loveless marriage, and lives in a world of peace and scientific progress. Pat – who turns Mark down – falls in love with a woman named Bee, raises three children (two of them hers), travels to Florence every summer, and lives in a world of war and nuclear threat. Both lives come together in the end, with Patricia old and alone in a nursing home, suffering from memory loss. But while she can’t remember a lot of little details, she knows that both of these lives happened and is left wondering whether she can choose between the two.
I thought this concept was fascinating. I liked that Patricia’s two lives were not aware of each other as they were happening, but that she knew about them both at the end. I also really loved both aspects of Patricia. There was always an underlying “sameness” to the two of them, allowing the reader to believe that they really could have been the same person underneath. But their lives were so different, but both interesting. Pat had a lot more “life” that she lived -traveling, a happy family relationship – but Trish was very strong in her own right and was a fascinating person.
My only complaint is that I felt that there was too much going on at the end. As each of her children grew up, they each had their own lives to add to her story, of course, but I wish the author hadn’t felt the need to make each child so dramatically different. It was endearing when one of her children got to go to the moon. It was sweet how one of her children had trouble finding her calling, and it ended up being Florence, same as Pat’s. But to have almost every child be either a prodigy in something or to choose an unconventional life-path, got really old. By the time Philip chose to be in a loving, committed three-some, it really felt like the author was trying too hard to be different and shocking. This is really my only complaint, though.
Overall, I thought that this was a really wonderful read. Interesting, original, and definitely made me think about where our choices can take us. I will definitely be picking up more by this author in the future.