In Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Ayelet Waldman subtly challenges readers to ponder some easily overlooked questions burgeoning with deep social implications: Are maternal instincts innate in every female? When and how does an adult female develop maternal instincts? Does every female necessarily develop them by virtue of simply being female? Does giving birth make a woman a mom or a mother, and is there a difference?
When lead character and attorney Emilie Greenleaf marries an older, established partner at her swanky Manhattan law firm following their torrid affair and his subsequent acrimonious divorce, she instantly gains another title: step-mother.
William, Jack Greenleaf’s five-year-old son, is inquisitive, intelligent and understandably distraught by his parent’s breakup and the new woman in his father’s life. William’s mother Carolyn, a popular Manhattan gynecologist whose screechy, disdainful attitude stereotypes “the woman scorned,” consistently undermines Emilie’s attempts to establish a relationship with William by beseechingly tattling to Jack about anything Emilie does that might seem the least bit questionable.
For example, when Emilie picks William up from preschool at the 92nd Street Y after forgetting an umbrella on a cold, rainy day, Carolyn accuses her of doing so purposely to get William sick.
Complicating matters is that Emilie still grieves the recent death of her two-day-old daughter, Isabel. Jack, a pragmatic man with an agonizingly annoying ex-wife, a precocious young son who has spent a great deal of time in therapy for various difficulties Carolyn insists were brought on by Emilie’s intrusion in their lives, and a demanding law practice, is too busy to express his grief outwardly. By having to parent, or at least interact with and supervise William while Jack and Carolyn toil endlessly at their respective professions while she is still mourning Isabel, Emilie is unwittingly thrust into an incredibly difficult and nearly impossible quandary: how to parent and mother when those instincts have not only not yet kicked in, but have been severed by a sudden and irreversible trauma.
Waldman’s sometimes humorous, painstakingly accurate portrayal of parenthood, lost dreams and the gravities and realities of life, love and family make for a dynamic read that is not only entertaining but thought-provoking, as well.