By Michael Lowenthal
Available now from Terrace Books (University of Wisconsin Press)
Before I began reading THE PATERNITY TEST, I read a review from Roof Beam Reader's Literary Others event that worried me. Geoff (The Oddness of Moving Things) was turned off the book from the beginning due to a line that struck him as misogynistic. Despite being forewarned, I read right over that line.
The prospective parents in THE PATERNITY TEST are Pat and Stu, two men looking to save their marriage. Their relationship began to erode as Pat became more jealous of Stu's extramarital partners and Stu failed to notice Pat's discontent. But now they've moved away from the city, to Cape Cod, and are looking for a woman to be a surrogate. They think they've finally found the perfect mother in Brazilian immigrant Debora, but unfortunately things aren't that easy.
Being a parent is hard. It can be hard to simply have a child, as Stu and his sister find out. (She's attempting to adopt, but having difficultly in adopting a Jewish child.) It can be hard to have only one child if you feel you're meant to give birth again, like Debora. It can be hard if you don't agree with how your children are doing now that they're grown up, like Stu's parents. And romantic relationships are hard too, even without the complication of children. And THE PATERNITY TEST is all about tangled relationships.
Michael Lowenthal's characters are complex, flawed, and often somewhat ignorant in their flaws. Pat, for instance, likes to think of himself as an activist, but he can be very hypocritical and unaware of his own prejudice. It's a flaw that has serious consequences. Many other characters have to own up to their own shortcomings as well.
One of my favorite aspects of THE PATERNITY TEST was that I did not figure out where it was going. I thought I knew how this book would go when I began it, but I was totally and completely wrong. There are some big twists, which isn't exactly what you expect when reading a character-driven novel.
I found the ending slightly abrupt, but not unsatisfying. THE PATERNITY TEST is a well-done drama, delving deep into the life of a couple fighting to stay together and be happy. The characters aren't always likeable, but that's because they're complicated people. I enjoyed THE PATERNITY TEST, particularly as a change in style from my usual reading.