Saturday, September 28, 2013

Leaving Haven

Leaving Haven
by Kathleen McCleary
Published by William Morrow
352 pages
Genre: women's fiction
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
5 / 5

Oh, faithful readers. I really liked this book, and I'm still a bit annoyed that it ended.

The titular Haven in question is a newborn infant whose parentage is somewhat convoluted. His forty-year-old gestational carrier is Georgia, who has a teenage daughter with her chef husband John. Georgia and John always wanted more children, but years of lost pregnancies and failed in vitro procedures left her ready to forsake another attempt. Ready, but not quite willing. When Georgia muses out loud to best friend Alice about getting a donor egg from Georgia's younger sister, Alice volunteers. She and her husband Duncan have a daughter the same age as Georgia and John's, and the two women are best friends. Why not donate an egg?

If only it were that simple.

Just a couple of months before giving birth, Georgia discovers catastrophic news that careens her marriage, her friendship, and potentially her pregnancy into an abyss of agony and uncertainty.

Told from the perspectives of both Georgia and Alice, we get to know the two women and their families. We empathize with Georgia's lost pregnancies and her frustration and grief over not getting pregnant a second time. We hurt with her, just as we both adore and are vexed by her two sisters. We feel her love and passion for her husband, even if he may not be all that he appears. When Georgia suspects him of being unfaithful with a cook at his restaurant, we hold our breath, hoping it isn't true. Georgia deserves better than a husband who is not fully devoted to her.

Alice, too, has a husband whom we suspect is not as good as she deserves. Duncan is focused on his job, almost to the exclusivity of his family. He is a creature of habit, steady and predictable. After a decade and a half of marriage, we feel Alice's restlessness, even if she is desperate to create the stability she lacked as a child. Duncan is a good man, but he's boring. And he lacks passionate interest in his wife. We don't suspect his fidelity to her, but there are different sorts of fidelity, aren't there? Is emotional infidelity any better than sexual?

When the breach occurs between Alice and Georgia, Kathleen McCleary expertly steers us down the middle. She does not choose side and she demands that we do not either. Each woman has a reason for her actions, and rather than align ourselves with one over the other, we instead should hope that they reclaim their friendship. Even more than their marriages, their relationship with each other is the true emotional source for this novel. One of my favorite passages is when Georgia acknowledges that the loss of her friendship with Alice hurts more than any failings in her marriage.

At first, though, I thought the ending of the book pointed to McCleary picking a side. But after I thought about it, I realized that she really didn't. She ended it as it needs to end, even though I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the characters.

There are moments of humor sprinkled throughout, which is excellent planning by McCleary. Things get emotionally fraught, so having those light-hearted episodes grounds us in how real this situation is. Even Georgia's sisters, who could have been stock characters, are realistically drawn. We understand their jealousies and sympathies.

Is this a perfect book? No. Some of the character motivations do not ring true, and one of the husbands is so mysterious that his behavior is unaccounted for. That made me  question him more, which is not the direction the story should take. Our attention must be focused squarely on Georgia and Alice. One of the subplots, involving Georgia and Alice's daughters, is meant to parallel their mothers' relationship, replete with betrayals and emotional pain. The denouement of their relationship makes us wonder if the same will happen between Georgia and Alice.

Read this one, then come back and discuss it with me in the comments. Did you take a side? Whose?


  1. I was on team Georgia! I hated Alice. Would love to see a sequel to this book and see what happens to these fascinating characters.

  2. I struggled with Alice, but ultimately I did like her. I could see how she felt unappreciated and bored. I'm not saying I like what she did or how she behaved, but I can understand why she did it. I do want her and Duncan to work things out, though. He confused me to no end. Will he stay with her? Leave her? I'd love to know.

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