This is a writing sample by “nycghostwriter,” AKA Barbara Finkelstein. It is “Infertility Is Pernicious Weed in Yuppie Eden,” a book review published in The Plain Dealer (Cleveland). You can get professional ghostwriting services from a published non-fiction writer. Email me or fill out the short form on my contact page.
THE PLAIN DEALER | July 1991
PERFECT TOGETHER by Nora Johnson, Dutton, 262 pp., $19.95
By Barbara Finkelstein
You don’t usually associate the dark side of human nature with yuppies. To all outer appearances, those self-assured men and women in pin stripes and sneakers evoke a picture of vigor and prosperity. If they are guilty of anything, it is, charitably speaking, conspicuous consumption. Fortunately, the yuppie cliche withers early on in Perfect Together, a small, unassuming novel that turns the American presumption of having-it-all on its ear.
To be sure, the characters in Nora Johnson’s seventh novel at first threaten to turn into predictable narcissists. Fran Letterman, the first-person narrator throughout most of the book, is a high-powered corporate lawyer. Her husband, Charlie Morse, is a picture-perfect physicist.
The gold runs out, as Fran puts it, when she and Charlie decide to have a baby. Never before thwarted in any project, the perfect couple begins to unravel when Fran cannot conceive.
Isolated in Rivertown, N.Y., a fictitious suburb north of Manhattan, and exhausted by years of fertility testing, Charlie has an affair with Ellie, his housekeeper. When she gets pregnant, Charlie declares the child his and, to Fran’s revulsion, insists that he and Fran raise it.
Reminiscent of the Baby M case of the late ‘80s, Ellie’s surrogate motherhood becomes the premise for Johnson’s tragicomic inquiry into male and female versions of morality. Charlie, for instance, argues that the legal contract he makes with Ellie supersedes any biological claim she might have on her baby. But when Charlie doubts that Monty is really his son and begins to beat him, the reader suspects that Charlie is more in love with the idea of paternity than with Monty.
Perfect Together would be less than perfect without Johnson’s piquant cast of characters: Dr. Seymour Dore, the gynecologist who worships lactation; Lulu Letterman, Fran’s clairvoyant mother who, for reasons of personal history, sympathizes with Ellie; and Adam Kerner, the anthropologist whose anti-patriarchal philosophy produces articles like, “The Sexual Sop,” a treatise on the male usurpation of female reproductive power.
In the end, Nora Johnson’s comedy of manners is all about acquiring vision. Little wonder that when Charlie adopts a blinkered “Mr. Mom” persona, he loses sight of the world beyond Twinkies and Pampers. He spends his days zonked out before the TV’s uncomprehending eye, watching, ironically, the advertising satellite he helped put into orbit. Ultimately, Charlie storms out of his domestic misery in a blind rage, committing one final act of abuse against three-year-old Monty.
The perfection that Fran extols at the start is long gone by novel’s end. And yet the losses she sustains enlarge her maternal and moral vision. In this gem of a novel, insight counts for everything.
Barbara Finkelstein is the author of Summer Long-a-coming (Harper & Row).