Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Adoption novel leaves too many holes

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Toronto author Tish Cohen's fourth piece of commercial fiction, about a woman's search for her prospective daughter's birth mother, is a quick and easy read.

With characters that would be right at home in a sitcom, The Search Angel treads lightly into territory that could bear weightier treatment. Some will find that appealing; others will be disappointed.

Cohen, who also writes young-adult fiction, introduces all the usual suspects present in an adoption story -- the birth mother (and the oft-forgotten birth father), the adoptee and the adoptive parents.

She touches on all the expected issues surrounding infertility, abandonment, guilt and regret. But at times her heavy-handed humour seems to rob the serious issues of their full emotional impact.

The story centres on Eleanor Sweet, owner of the ultra-chic baby store Pretty Baby in Boston. Now that Eleanor and her husband, Jonathan, have been cleared to adopt a child, the black clouds of infertility have finally parted. Today is the day they fly to Baja, Calif., to meet their daughter, Sylvie.

But Jonathan is having second thoughts. And not just about Sylvie.

Determined not to lose her dream of motherhood, Eleanor asks the adoption agency what hoops she must jump through in order to proceed with the adoption as a single parent.

The biggest obstacle Eleanor faces is putting together her support network -- who can she count on in an emergency?

With both parents dead and no siblings (Eleanor herself is adopted), the closest person to Eleanor is her lone employee, a frazzled mother of three boys who barely has time to tend to her own appearance, let alone come to someone else's rescue. Eleanor has only a few days to get her support network in place or the adoption will fall through.

After a random encounter in Pretty Baby with a pregnant woman and her two mothers -- one adoptive mother, the other birth -- Eleanor conceives a plan.

Cue the search for the birth mother.

It is unclear if Cohen hopes we will join Eleanor in thinking that her yet-to-be-found birth mother is logically the best candidate to put forward as her support system, or if we are to pity this young woman who may have just lost her husband, her baby girl, and her mind.

After all, anyone who has heard an adoptee's story about their search for a birth parent knows that "expeditious" and "uncomplicated" are the last descriptors that come to mind.

However, we must buy into the questionable scenario as it is both integral to the rest of the story and necessary for the introduction of Isabelle, Cohen's search angel. Eleanor's search for her birth mother also provides Cohen with a vehicle to probe further into the emotionally and psychologically complex territory of adoption.

However, Cohen seems reluctant to probe this territory too deeply and even misses some beautiful opportunities she has created. Eleanor is a character who represents both the adoptive parent and the adoptee, and yet the unique perspective of this duality is left untapped.

We are privy to some of the longings, hurts, and fantasies Eleanor experiences as an adoptee, and yet "adoptive-parent-Eleanor" never takes the opportunity to consider how she will handle any of the same -- or different -- issues that may arise for her future daughter.

A former Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancer, CindyMarie Small is an adoptee who has yet to have contact with the birth mother for whom she began searching more than 20 years ago.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 A1

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