The Red Thread by Ann Hood

May 29, 2011

Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Maya Lange runs the Red Thread adoption agency, which specializes in helping hopeful American couples adopt baby girls from China. Suffering from pervasive memories of her own baby daughter’s death in a freak accident and the subsequent divorce that left her alone and lonely, Maya uses her work to help heal her own pain while bringing joy to others.

The current group of applicants consists of many women battling their own demons with varying degrees of help from their partners. There is the neurotic Nell, whose husband barely pays attention to her anymore. There’s the ever-optimistic Sophie, who has idealistic visions of a houseful of happy children, despite husband Theo’s increasingly distant behavior. There’s Brooke, who worries that Charlie, her ex-pro ballplayer husband, might never be able to accept a baby into their home. There’s Emily, who is trying desperately to connect with–or at least gain some grudging amount of acceptance–from stepdaughter Chloe, even as husband Michael always seems to take Chloe’s side. And there’s Susannah, who can’t cope with her own biological daughter’s struggles with Fragile X syndrome and starts to resent husband Carter’s ability to deal with the child more effectively.

Along with glimpses into the lives of these couples, the author also gives the reader a brief look at some mothers in China and the unimaginable pain involved in having to part with healthy baby girls because of the one-child policy.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I borrowed the ebook from my library because the summary sounded interesting. I’d never heard of Ann Hood before, but ended up liking her writing style. This book was oddly compelling, and was one that I couldn’t wait to pick up again after a long day of work.
  • Maya was a good lead character, and was just the right person to hold this book together. She was mentally strong and wise, yet Hood stopped short of making her always right. Maya still had her flaws, which deepened her humanity and made it easy to connect with her.
  • It was interesting to learn about some parts of the adoption process. I find it slightly amusing that people who want to adopt are put through such a rigorous screening process to assess their suitability as parents, yet 13-year-olds can have babies and no one intervenes. Yay, society!
  • Some of the Chinese mothers’ stories were positively heartbreaking. I don’t even want to let myself imagine what really goes on with the baby girls over there.
  • Even though it was obvious that all the couples would end up with babies in the end, it was still fun to see it all finally happen. How exciting it must have been to get to decorate the nursery, send out invitationbox.com birth announcements, and travel all the way to China to pick out the child that had been handpicked for each parent!

Disliked:

  • I hated the Nell/Theo hookup because it just didn’t seem like the kind of choice Nell would make. Look, I know people cheat on spouses all the time, so my objection is not a moral one. I’m objecting to the fact that Nell would sleep with someone who was essentially just like her husband: distant and cold to his wife, and wholly unenthusiastic about having a baby.
  • Theo was my least favorite character of all. He was disgusting and didn’t deserve the happiness afforded him at the end of the novel.
  • There were too many couples/characters for my taste. It took forever for me to get everyone straight, and the book simply wasn’t long enough to give everyone equal time in the spotlight. Since we saw so little of Emily, for instance, was it necessary for her to be included? Or Susannah and Carter? Cutting out a few of the couples in order to give the remaining characters more in-depth treatment would have been nice.

Rating:

As I said, I was pleasantly surprised by The Red Thread by Ann Hood. It was not a perfect novel, and I’m sure some people will feel it’s too syrupy for their tastes. But I liked it much more than I expected to, and will seek out some other Hood books to try. I give this one 4 stars out of 5.

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