Lowenthal, Michael. “The Paternity Test”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2012.
Rethinking Family Values
About a month ago I wrote about Michael Lowenthal’s upcoming book and now I have had a chance to read it through an advanced reading copy. I am so happy to say that it is everything I thought it to be and as a loyal Lowenthal fan, I was moved throughout. The book combines two of my favorite topics—Judaism and LGBT issues and when I spoke to the author recently about it, he told me that this is the most Jewish book he has ever written.
Michael Lowenthal rocked my world with his novel, “The Same Embrace’ as well as with “Avoidance” and “Charity Girl” brings us “The Paternity Test” about a gay couple on the brink of fatherhood. He tackles gay fatherhood through surrogacy and is one of the first to do so and his book looks at the concept of family values.
Below is the press release about the book and it summarizes it much better than I ever could:
“Having a baby to save a marriage—it’s the oldest of clichés. But what if the marriage at risk is a gay one and having a baby involves a surrogate mother?
Pat Faunce is a faltering romantic, a former poetry major who now writes textbooks. A decade into his relationship with Stu, an airline pilot from a fraught Jewish family, he fears he’s losing Stu to other men—and losing himself in their “no rules” arrangement. Yearning for a baby and a deeper commitment, he pressures Stu to move from Manhattan to Cape Cod, to the cottage where Pat spent boyhood summers.
As they struggle to adjust to their new life, they enlist a surrogate: Debora, a charismatic Brazilian immigrant, married to Danny, an American home rebuilder. Gradually, Pat and Debora bond, drawn together by the logistics of getting pregnant and away from their spouses. Pat gets caught between loyalties—to Stu and his family, to Debora, to his own potent desires—and wonders: is he fit to be a father?
In one of the first novels to explore the experience of gay men seeking a child through surrogacy, Michael Lowenthal writes passionately about marriages and mistakes, loyalty and betrayal, and about how our drive to create families can complicate the ones we already have. The Paternity Test is a provocative look at the new “family values.””
Of course I have to add my own praise as I am sure it is not enough to say that I love this book. I was swept into on the very first page and I think that the chapters beginning without capitalization helped this to happen. I read it in one sitting as I usually do with Lowenthal and I remember that when I first began reviewing, I was so stunned with the beauty of “The Same Embrace” that I have compared almost everything I read to it. Let me say that it is time for that book to move over as it is being replaced by “The Paternity Test”.
The writer looks at different relationships and then puts them to the test and we learn something about the bond that husbands share with their partners, with their parents and with their siblings. Stu and Patrick share s somewhat complicated relationship and they think that the baby might be a solution to some of their issues. What they learn is what being an adult means and what it means to be parents, part of a family and not just a couple. We quickly realize that the definition of the word “family “is fluid and families today are constantly being changed from both within and from the outside. Long-term relationships and love are also a theme here as are the reasons for bringing a child into the world. We are quick to realize that the characters here are the characters we meet in life with their good points and their flaws and perfection is an unobtainable ideal.
The human condition is examined here with its strengths and weaknesses and with its joys and sadnesses (I know, I know this is not a word but it describes what I am saying and I like it). But even with that, this is a book that celebrates the best and we cheer for the heroes to find their way even though their definitions of happiness may be different.
Michael Lowenthal is author of three previous novels: The Same Embrace, Avoidance, and Charity Girl, which was a New York Times Book Review “Editors’ Choice” title, a Washington Post “Top Fiction of 2007” selection, and a Book Sense Top Twenty Pick. The recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, he is a core faculty member in Lesley University’s MFA program in creative writing. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts with his writer partner, Scott Heim (“Mysterious Skin”).