Reviewed by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Sunday, June 11, 2006
By Sarah Bilston
HarperCollins. 215 pp, $23.95
Sarah Bilston's first novel tackles one of the most boring topics imaginable: months spent prone in bed with an expanding uterus. Each year, 750,000 (one in five) pregnant American women are prescribed bed rest to treat ailments ranging from low amniotic fluid to pregnancy-induced hypertension -- without clear medical evidence that bed rest is therapeutic. Bilston endured that stationary treatment herself, and at times she succeeds in making the humdrum hilarious, à la Bridget Jones's Diary, but she's too ambitious: The only thing more unendurable than lying in bed for three months is reading about lying in bed for three months.
Exacerbating the lackluster plot is the main character, Quinn "Q" Boothroyd, who's devoid of connection to anything except chocolate chip cookies -- not her job, her baby or her work-obsessed husband punching out BlackBerry messages each time he breezes through a chapter. A smug 28-year-old workaholic lawyer living in Manhattan, Q is hard to like: "I have no life now, and I'll never have a life again," she writes in her diary. "I might as well face the facts. My youth is over. . . . I'm not me anymore; I'm not a lawyer, I'm not Tom's lover, I'm a body, a vehicle, an incubator. . . . My own life has effectively ended. Bed rest just means it ended a little earlier than expected."
Niggling incongruities abound. Intentionally pregnant with her first baby, Q seems oddly dispassionate about becoming a mother: "The truth is, neither of us have the right kind of lives for parenthood. We don't have the time to raise a child. What in God's name were we thinking?" Although most Manhattan lawyers can cite their billable hours to the penny with pride, Q seems strangely acquiescent about forfeiting her job responsibilities and income once her doctor orders her home. "My work in-box is bound to be brimming by now, but I've decided to ignore it -- once they realize I'm not checking they'll have to leave me alone." Q hardly mentions her job again and never once mentions money -- odd behavior for an ambitious attorney ripped from her work.
Her alleged marital bliss is also hard to accept since Q and Tom rarely find themselves within the same zip code. "Tom and I pass each other in the bathroom at 6 A.M. most days," she says, "and meet occasionally on Sunday evenings for a picnic in Central Park." Her hubby leaves Q home alone (often without food) for 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Q, in turn, devises a scheme sure to embarrass Tom's law firm and sabotage his chance to make partner (the only thing he seems passionate about).
Bed Rest is brightened by Bilston's witty repartee and enticing tangents about a paralegal's sordid affair and Q's bid to save her impoverished neighbors' rent-controlled building. These plots thicken nicely, as do Q's chin and waistline, but not enough to make this novel worth reading. ·
Leslie Morgan Steiner is the editor of "Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families."