By Jami Deise
Associate Reviewer at Chick Lit Central
How far would you go to ensure your child’s happiness and well-being? Quit a job you loved? Move across the country? Would you stay with a man who just asked for a divorce so your baby – still a zygote at this point – would have two parents in the same house?
In Jennifer Coburn’s Tales from the Crib – re-released after originally being published in 2006 – writer Lucy Klein can’t wait to tell her husband Jack that she’s pregnant. But before she can get the words out, Jack asks for a divorce. And while Lucy’s news changes Jack’s mind, it’s not in the way Lucy hopes. Rather than splitting up, Jack proposes he and Lucy live together as friends so they can co-parent their baby. And Lucy, still in love with her husband despite their rocky marriage, agrees.
Lucy, 39, has already had several miscarriages and had to terminate a pregnancy in its 8th month when the baby was found to have defects incompatible with life. So it’s not surprising that she’s willing to do anything to hold on to this baby, even if that means living with a man that no longer wants her.
Jack jumps into their new relationship with ease. Soon he’s calling Lucy “kiddo” and dating other women. Lucy, meanwhile, has to suffer all the indignities of pregnancy, and then some. Not only does she get the weight gain and the digestive issues, she also comes down with Bell’s Palsy. And maybe it’s hormones or maybe the hope that the baby might bring them together, but Lucy is still deeply in love with her husband. So it’s really hard listening to him have sex with someone else in their house.
Tales from the Crib has the breezy, tangential tone of a memoir. Lucy seems very real and is an easy character to root for. She’s self-deprecating and tries to find the humor in every situation. Jack could have been written as a complete asshole, but in Coburn’s writing he comes across as a reasonable human being doing things that most women would consider the “justifiable” part in “justifiable homicide.” The supporting characters in Lucy’s life – mother Anjoli, cousin Kimmy, best friend Zoe and other relatives and moms – provide comic relief while never seeming unbelievable.
Coburn has a knack for taking situations that all mothers have been through – such as breastfeeding problems – and people we’ve all dealt with – like the La Leche League breastfeeding fanatics – and making the circumstances and the characters both unique and universal. And she makes the very unique character – the really nice woman dating Jack; the neurotic cousin marrying herself – seem realistic when it might have been easier to go for the cliché.
The novel does have a few minor flaws. Tonewise, I thought it was a little uneven. It’s written in first person point of view, and I found the quick way Lucy described her previous pregnancy issues and her eagerness to make a joke to be inconsistent with the material. However, as the novel progressed, Lucy is forced to deal with her habit of using humor to suppress her emotions, so the uneven tone is actually a good reflection of the protagonist’s coping mechanism. The novel is generally fast paced, although its energy lags somewhat about three-fourths of the way through. And there’s a whopping deux-en-machina at the end, which to me seemed unnecessary, as there was already a plot point that could have produced the same result.
Still, these are tiny flaws in a very good novel. The most telling fact is that I found myself reading Tales from the Crib while Modern Family blared from my TV. If Lucy and Jack can trump Claire and Phil, that’s really saying something.
The 2012 edition ended with a hint at a sequel. Coburn wrapped things up so nicely, I’m surprised she had material for another book. But I’m anxious to read it.
Jami Deise recently moved to St. Petersburg, FL after living her whole life in Maryland. After writing and trying to sell screenplays for the past ten years, she recently completed and self-published her first novel,Keeping Score (mom lit!). Now that her son Alex is headed off to college, Jami will have plenty of time for reading, writing, watching TV, and blogging. She’s on Facebook andTwitter.