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Parallel Playby Thomas Rayfiel
Synopses & Reviews
Shes still not quite sure how it happened. The biological part is fairly straightforward. Its the wife-and-mother part that Eve cant wrap her head around. Much to her surprise, Eve finds herself living in Brooklyn, married to a doctor named Harvey, and toting a young infant named Ann. How did she get here? And where is that maternal instinct that was supposed to have kicked in by now?
From winter afternoons spent freezing at the Tot Spot to playgroups where she inadvertently tells the other mothers that Ann was an accident, Eve struggles to embrace motherhood and the yuppie accoutrements of her new life. It doesnt help that her even-keeled husband spends long days working at the hospital, or that her own childhood in a religious cult was-by most peoples estimates-extremely odd. And when her ex-boyfriend (her gorgeous, toned, aloof ex-boyfriend) Mark reappears, Eve is thrown for a loop. Torn between the free-spirited Manhattanite she once was and the Snugli-wearing, baby-hoisting, stay-at-home body she now finds herself inhabiting, Eve realizes she must choose between the past and the present, lust and love, childhood and adulthood.
“Whats sly, fine and real here is the way Rayfiel finally insinuates Baby into Eves slow-melting heart to form a bio-bond that becomes wondrously tight. Smart, dark, daring fare.”
“Its high time we got a novel such as Parallel Play-one that portrays a young mother as neither the Virgin Mary nor as Mommie Dearest. Eve is fumbling, flawed, funny, and——above all-utterly human. Tom Rayfiel has dared to tell it like it is in this triumphant novel.”
-Binnie Kirshenbaum, author of An Almost Perfect Moment
“Wonderfully dreamlike and sharply, hilariously satirical . . . a truly remarkable and original creation.”
-Dan Chaon, author of You Remind Me of Me
“If Thomas Pynchon had suffered postpartum depression, he might have written a novel like Parallel Play. As Eve wanders through the first months of motherhood, her observations are hilarious, eerie, and unforgettable. This is a must-read for lovers of smart fiction and flummoxed mothers.”-Amanda Eyre Ward, author of How to Be Lost
"Continuing the story of Eve (Colony Girl; Eve in the City), Rayfiel's fourth novel is a dark, hit-and-miss snapshot of young motherhood. Eve, now 27, is overwhelmed: her unexpected pregnancy resulted in marriage to older doctor Harvey Gabriel and ambivalence about caring for Ann, her seven-month-old daughter. Eve is a far cry from the supermoms she encounters at the park ('Ow! You little bitch!' she snaps when Ann bites her breast), and her relationship with Harvey has cooled. The reappearance of her ex-boyfriend Mark (a contractor who is her age exactly, and who is now married to a dancer named Iolanthe) forces her to confront her feelings and her past. Rayfiel has Eve's voice down: her turmoil and what may be postpartum depression come through loud and clear, and her rehashing of her childhood at a religious colony rings true. A side plot that has Eve's closest friend, Marjorie, fleeing town with kids in tow during a nasty divorce is less convincing, but the ending has a nice (if small) twist, and Eve remains a complex character with conflicting feelings whose voice sustains the novel." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'Parallel Play' is the third of a trilogy of novels about Eve, who has no last name because she was brought up in a strict Midwestern religious colony that lived by Old Testament rules and didn't use last names. Eve escaped the colony and came to New York, intending to make her fortune, find her destiny. This novel finds her newly married, exiled to boring Brooklyn and saddled with a 7-month-old baby.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Eve's husband, Harvey Gabriel, is a doctor and an extremely nice man, but Eve is miserable and furious. She's convinced that her life, at age 27, has been finished by the demands of biology before it has even fairly begun. 'She's a mistake,' Eve says of her daughter by way of introduction in a parallel-play class for babies. 'I mean, an accident. ... I mean, when I met her father, it was for an injury.' Eve is physically and emotionally repulsed by her baby. Maternity advocates would say they just haven't bonded yet, psychological experts would guess at postpartum depression, but Eve doesn't see it that way. She didn't want to be pregnant in the first place, her delivery was a horror, and nursing makes her feel as if she's being 'attacked by a giant toothless rat.' Her life has become a lonely, catastrophic maze that runs from home, ever grungier because Eve can't or won't clean up; to the playground, the home-away-from-home for lonely housewives; to the butcher, who doles out slabs of red meat with flirtatious winks to insanely lonely females. Eve takes her daughter, Ann, to a threateningly pretty pediatrician who has a huge crush on Eve's husband. She also comes into contact with a sparse assortment of other new mothers, who try their hardest to present themselves as normal-verging-on-happy but seem to be as deeply messed up as Eve. (To those readers who are already wondering whether this woman ever heard of abortion or bottle-feeding or working part time, don't bother. This novel is about new mothers being miserable, about women being 'sold a bill of goods about motherhood,' as the author remarks in a reader's guide after the novel — and to a great extent, he's right.) No young woman can exist in a plot with just a husband and a baby, so wouldn't you know it, right on Page 4, along comes the invidious ex-boyfriend, popping up serendipitously at the playground: Mark is a vision 'under a tangle of silly white-boy dread locks. The way kids don't have fully formed features yet, how their faces are fresh, as if some wrapper has just been pulled back, that was Mark, even though he was twenty-four. No, twenty-seven, now. My age, still.' In contrast to the solid, agreeable Gabriel, Mark, who bills himself as a contractor, lives in a loft where he grows and sells marijuana. He's married to Iolanthe, who bills herself a dancer studying to be a therapist but is actually just a rich girl in disguise. The old chemistry is still there between Eve and Mark, or seems to be. He takes her and baby Ann out to Coney Island in the dead of winter. Is it a date? Eve is still attracted to him, but what, really, does he want from her? She's refrained for months from having sex with the angelic Gabriel: 'things started happening, like our both passing out at night from exhaustion, never being alone, fighting, and just being repulsed, I think, by anything having to do with the body.' She's not in a frisky mood, and that goes for Mark, too — except that once she's found him again, she can't stay away from him. And of course, tit for tat, who should she come upon, kissing in the street, but her husband and that extra-cute pediatrician? Ah, the stuff of romantic comedy! Except that this isn't romantic and it isn't a comedy. For one thing, Eve really is suffering from postpartum depression. For another, she's obnoxious. It's not just the pregnancy that has made her that way; she's one of those women for whom being rude is a secondary sex characteristic. It certainly worked on Dr. Gabriel: He treated her for a broken toe, listened to her smart mouth, took in her terrible manners and showed up the next night at her door carrying cartons of takeout Chinese. If being awful works for Eve, why should she give it up? She can say the most awful things about people in the sure knowledge that they'll overlook them or think they're cute. This is too bad, because the author has a real point here — that a lot of the 'good mother' rigmarole we're being fed right now is pure fiction. The act of giving birth doesn't automatically endow every woman with a full-blown maternal instinct — far from it. You can be the sweetest person in the world and be felled by postpartum depression and a disinclination to have much to do with your demanding baby. But this is written by a guy, and he has his own ax to grind. When Dr. Gabriel is down in Florida dealing with the remains of his recently deceased mother, baby Ann gets sick, and Mark comes over to see if he can help. 'I was holding her,' Eve says, 'just the way I did the first few months when Harvey came home. I would hear his key and then, before he could even finish turning it, undo the lock, yank open the door, and thrust his baby at him. I couldn't tell if doing the same thing to Mark meant I was already missing Harvey or if it was just the only way I knew how to greet a man anymore: Hand him your child and start to complain.' The words of an aggrieved guy, not any woman. Eve's life reflects the circumstances of urban New York as much as any new mother's. She has no parents or relatives to help her out. She has no friends from her past life. Harvey's only friend is the cute pediatrician. Eve's only occupation is to make married life a living hell. No wonder she wants to visit the days of her youth with the dope-dealing Mark. Fortunately or unfortunately, she learns that the only way out is through. 'You'd better be worth it,' Eve whispers to little Ann toward the end of the novel. But if things go on the way they are, Ann's going to end up on the psychiatrist's couch, telling stories about her awful, emotionally withholding, mean-mouthed mom. This novel is (rather cynically) pitched to the new-mother, book-group crowd. A particularly dopey set of questions follows the text, when the only one, really, should be: 'Must moms be mean as snakes?' The answer, of course, is no." Reviewed by Carolyn See, who may be reached at carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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