The Nearness of You, Amanda Eyre Ward’s sixth novel, tells the story of Hyland and Suzette Kendall, a young couple that agreed before marriage that they would remain childless. Because of her mother’s mental illness (and her own instability during her college years), Suzette fears that any child of hers will be genetically inclined toward the same problem. If Hyland had not agreed with her decision not to have children, she would never have agreed to marry him. But now, despite the comfortable life they have created for themselves in Houston, Hyland is desperately craving the experience of raising a child of his own – and he comes to Suzette with a plan to make it happen: find a surrogate mother via the Fertility Clinic of Houston.
That’s where the “fertile, unstable, beautiful” Dorrie comes into the picture. Dorrie, who works as a penguin-feeder at Galveston’s Sea-O-Rama, badly wants to get off of Galveston Island and away from her mother, but she is too broke to make it happen. So when she spots the Fertility Clinic of Houston’s billboard seeking surrogate mothers, Dorrie thinks that surrogate motherhood might just be her way off the island. Then when she learns from the clinic that she can “trade nine months of her life” for a cool $35,000, she is sure of it.
Suzette, a heart surgeon capable of performing the most intricate and delicate surgery on infants, is still uneasy about becoming something she had decided never to be, a mother. She knows that motherhood will complicate her professional life, and fears that she does not have what it takes to be a good mother. But because Hyland is so enthusiastically happy about becoming a father, she reluctantly signs on to the deal with Dorrie, Even after the dinner celebrating Dorrie’s pregnancy (where Dorrie announces her certainty that she is carrying a girl), Suzette has to fight hard to control the panic she feels.
And then Dorrie disappears.
Ward tells her story from three main points of view, using the third person when narrating from the perspective of Hyland or Suzette, and the first person when relating Dorrie’s thoughts and experiences. These shifting perspectives, which are often in conflict, add tension and drama to a plot that at times, however, already borders on melodrama, one in which the reader’s emotions are stretched right up to – or even beyond – the breaking point.
Bottom Line: The Nearness of You asks and examines some of the big questions regarding motherhood, such as whether or not a woman can change her basic nature and learn to both enjoy and be good at motherhood, and why some women can so readily give up a newborn while others cannot do it under any circumstance. The story unfortunately becomes a little too predictable and begins to resemble more what one expects from a Hallmark Channel movie than from a literary novel on the same subject.