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My Real Children, Jo Walton, Tor Books, 2014, 320 pp
The election happened. I could not read fiction. I had a review deadline for The Terranauts and was almost through reading that so I got professional (more than I can say for some politicians I will not name) and finished it. I had the next book on my reading plan for the week sitting there but I just couldn't start it.
One of the little known blessings of e-readers is that I have almost a library of unread books there that I forget I own. Like a recovering invalid, I flipped through all those titles and Jo Walton called out to me. Better yet, she rescued me.
When the story opens, Patricia is in one of the upper tiers of a senior facility. She surreptitiously checks the notes clipped to the end of her bed, where nurses list actions taken, medications given, and evaluations: "confused today" "very confused." Patricia's memory is slipping away but when she remembers to check the notes she can also find out the date.
Patricia is the most confused about her children. "Sometimes she knew with solid certainty that she had four children, and five more stillbirths: nine times giving birth in floods of blood and pain, and of those, four surviving. At other times she knows equally well that she had two children, both born by caesarean section late in her life after she had given up hope. Two children of her body, and another, a stepchild, dearest of them all."
In her reality, all of these children visit her. Very confused she is!
My Real Children is one of those stories of alternate lives a person could have; like Kate Atkinson's Life After Life or Making It Up by Penelope Lively. All of these books feature women whose lives are matters of chance, as are everyone's, but with the added, or should I say, lessened chances that women have.
Love, sex, marriage, childbearing and child raising all dependent on sufficient or not enough knowledge, opportunity, support, and freedom.
How many times have I thought, what if I had not made that choice (of husband, job, religious affiliation, school, move, pregnancy, separation, etc.)
I loved Patricia in all her variations and I loved the way Jo Walton constructed her novel. I am not one who goes in for "comfort fiction." This is not that but I did feel comforted and it was what I needed the day I read it.
(My Real Children is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)