Emily's Friday Book Review
One in a continuing series on abortion in fiction.
Maeve Binchy, according to The New York Times Book Review, is "a wonderful student of human nature."
Binchy writes about fictional abortions from time to time. As an example, in Scarlet Feather, the heroine's aunt has an abortion in her late teens when her boyfriend betrays and abandons her. She decides that she does not deserve to be a mother or wife and instead serves as a mistress to a series of married lovers.
I wanted to focus today on the marvelous short story, Decision in Belfield. It's included in the anthology, The Lilac Bus.
Publishers Weekly says of these stories that "each features a woman who learns the strength of her mettle through adversity" but that's not quite right.
Decision in Belfield portrays a young woman who surrenders her own needs and beliefs as her dysfunctional family gradually exerts its deadening influence on her. These dynamics will be very familiar to anyone who counsels pregnant women about pregnancy options, since Decision in Belfield is a pitch-perfect representation of how young women are shaped by unhealthy families to know what they are to do about unexpected pregnancies, even before they get pregnant.
The story begins:
She had been reading the Problem Pages for years. One or two of them had always said things about having done grievous wrong in the eyes of God and now the only thing to do was to Make Restitution. Most of them said that your parents would be very understanding--you must go straightaway and tell them. You will be surprised, the Problem Page said, at how much tolerance and understanding there will be, and how much support there is to be found at home.
Not in Pat's home. There would be no support there, no understanding. Pat's mother wasn't going to smile like people did in movies and say maybe it was all for the best and it would be nice to have another baby around the place, that she had missed the patter of tiny bootees. And Pat's father wasn't going to put his arm around her shoulder and take her for a long supportive walk on Dun Laoghaire pier. Pat knew all this very well, even though the Problem Pages told her she was wrong. But she knew it from personal experience. She knew that Mum and Dad wold not be a bundle of support and two big rocks of strength. Because they hadn't been any of that five years ago when her elder sister Cathy had been pregnant. There was no reason why their attitude should have changed as time went by.
In the central part of the story, Cathy reveals her pregnancy to her Catholic parents and is gradually made, without any explicit words exchanged, to travel to London from their home in Dublin. Cathy cuts off contact for fourteen months.
When Cathy returns, Pat begins to understand that an abortion occurred but that the rest of her family has decided to maintain that Cathy was never pregnant..."the test was wrong"...and that the story has a happy ending since "the test was wrong" and Cathy is now back and in their good graces with no adopted child out there who is being mothered and grandmothered by other arms.
The last two paragraphs of the story are:
But now Rory [Pat's occasional lover] had gone back to Bonn, and the Holles Street Clinic, which is never wrong over such things, had said Positive. And Pat had learned enough over the years not to believe the Problem Pages. It would be best if she went to London, on her own. Connected with work. And the possibility of getting into the London School of Economics--yes, that would be a good one. She had often spoken of the LSE. Mum and Dad would be interested in that as a project.
And as long as she wrote regularly and seemed happy, that was the main thing.