First, I’m trying hard to avoid spoilers!
Rebecca Stone is a poet and a mom living a privileged, well-off life in the power circles of Washington D.C. with her British diplomat husband, Christopher. Overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for her first child she turns to Priscilla, the African American woman the LaLache League supplied as a breast-feeding coach. Then things get complicated. As in Priscilla, Rebecca’s lifeline, dies. And, Rebecca decides she must adopt Priscilla’s newborn son, Andrew.
In labor, walking the halls of the hospital, Rebecca spots a photo of Princess Diana and Prince Charles leaving the hospital with their son. That photo marks the beginning of Rebecca’s motherhood just as the plane crash into the Potomac forever marks the start of her relationship with Christopher, her husband.
Diana is a someone Rebecca admires–almost like an extension of her self. Throughout the years their lives have interesting parallels–though Rebecca does not put on protective gear to walk thru a cleared and fully safe mine field. The comment about how it was easy for Diana to be a good mother seems to be the reason Rebecca can’t cope and must hire a nanny. That Rebecca can then write poetry again just as Diana could hand her sons off to nannies and then lunch at San Lorenzo or show up at hospitals or “secret” meetings with the homeless with press in tow. Prime Minister John Major’s strained announcement in Parliament that December day seemed to have been the reason for one of Rebecca’s odd decisions. Shame Christopher was an old Etonian and hadn’t gone to Gordonstoun, its all that was missing.
I loved, too, that the most-loved child in Rebecca’s life is Andrew–with that other father. Just like the Queen and her second son, Prince Andrew, whose paternity has long been snickered at. Just as Di’s own second son has endured whispers –especially after his own mother famously said “Somehow we had Harry.” “Lady Di” is raising a son fathered by Charles. So cool that he wove all this through the book. Even JFK, Jr. got a mention at the appropriate time.
And, just like in real life, it was all about “Diana”–well, that extension of Diana called Rebecca Stone. Rebecca who never really listened to anyone–just wanted to be seen listening, wanted to be known for doing good, for caring. Rebecca who didn’t need to be told how to care for a black child’s skin or how to prepare her ‘baby’ for that day when he would be stopped while driving black. Rebecca whose success as a poet was just so natural–so expected because of Diana’s role in it.
Just as Diana expected her mere presence would (as it DID) bring in the millions her causes and charities needed, just as she knew people would care deeply about things if she did so, so Rebecca’s success with her Diana-infused words was effortless, casual, success. and totally worthy of her. Blushing at the awards–looking up thru her bangs. Wearing the emeralds. A life of such extreme privilege. Only Rebecca stopped short of meeting the Dodi who was being pushed at her–why? Odd. That seemed like something was cut out of the story.
The Little Extra Story
Early on in the story a string of initials–not an acronym, but a series of letters, screamed out at me: BCCI. If you don’t recall it, you’ll want to Google it. Then the words “the Secretary”–as in the Cabinet–the heads of departments of the U.S. Government. That kind of “secretary.” (“Minister” would never work in a country partially founded by religious fanatics and in a government created by revolutionaries wanting to be done with England. They are Secretaries.) He’d known all these presidents. Clark Clifford’s name, face and resume was in my mind from the first mention, though he was never given a name in the book–a fixture in nearly every class in my political science major. Those would be meaningless references to most readers, but they are a part of the minor story line and understanding them helps.
I found a lot to keep me interested in this book. But there were places were I felt something had been chopped out. I couldn’t understand the “thing” that happened with Rebecca’s marriage for example. That just didn’t add up. There were expected events, events the story seemed to be leading to, that didn’t happen. Cheryl seemed to always want to tell her the “real” story on Priscilla. Why only that one little detail? I expected more.
The ending was just an end–like shutting off the car in the parking space. It seemed like bait and switch from what I’d been reading, what the story was leading up to. Her son Andrew, her baby, her marvelous accomplishment, of course got a mention in her speech. He was as important as Al Gore. I could picture Rebecca with ridiculously heavy eye-liner and pooling tears looking into her audience as though it was the Panorama camera.
Reviewers have remarked how odd it is that a man could write believable prose about motherhood, about breast-feeding. I’m not sure it is odd. He’s a writer. He observers, he emotes, he imagines. He also “mothers” his children with his husband. Loving care-giving is all mothering.