Mommy lit’s new heroine, from Africa to L.A.
By Mia Geiger
Special to The Denver Post
Motherhood, a topic that doesn’t hold a lot of panache in social situations, has become a hot topic in another area – popular fiction. And for good reason.
Where else can we find such fodder as a new mom trying to figure out when to switch sides during breast-feeding, how to get from one place to another without toting along her baby’s entire wardrobe and toy chest, and the best way to change a diaper while on the highway? There’s also all those conflicting feelings women have about going back to work and the stress of worrying whether your child measures up to the kid next door.
With so many books mining this topic, the challenge is to find one that covers the subject in a new way.
Enter “Making it Up as I Go Along,” a debut novel by Maria T. Lennon. Thanks to a thoroughly likable, witty-yet-insecure heroine desperately trying to make the best decisions, along with an absence of sentimental mush in the storytelling, the author makes a familiar topic feel fresh.
Add playful jabs at life in Los Angeles, a colorful assortment of friends, a creepy brother and an unexpected subplot involving life in Africa, and a compelling story emerges.
The book tells the story of 38-year-old Saffron Roch, a California journalist whose work takes her to the war zone in Sierra Leone. After becoming pregnant by a handsome surgeon working for a medical relief agency, she learns he has cheated on her. She returns home to Los Angeles and discovers she has inherited her adoptive mother’s Malibu beachfront property worth $10 million.
The problem is she still pines for Africa, as well as the man she left there. Making matters worse, the will stipulates she only gets the property if certain conditions are met, including that her beloved never step foot on the property.
Feeling woefully inadequate as a mother doesn’t help things, either. A single mother, newly jobless and more comfortable traveling the world with a backpack, the protagonist finds herself out of place amid the insulated, pampered L.A. lifestyle.
Helping her navigate are a quartet of women friends she meets at a trendy breast-feeding class: Anika, a new mom who does everything perfectly; Sophia, a gorgeous, young mom whose biggest thrill is finding out where a “Melrose Place” star goes for a Mommy and Me class; Alice, prim and proper; and Nancy, a social climber who “scheduled her C-section so as not to interrupt her husband Stan’s big screening.”
A Los Angeles resident herself, the author pokes fun at “L.A. ladies,” as when Saffron balks at Anika’s suggestion to meet at a hip L.A. restaurant, a place where “behind those massive art deco doors, women did not ‘do’ babies. Their help did it for them, feeding them, diapering them, taking them to the park, and putting them to bed at night. Mom was there for the big stuff, the stuff that really mattered like the weekend photo op.”
The novel is at turns humorous while describing Saffron’s misadventures in mothering, and also sobering and heartbreaking in its depictions of life in war-torn Africa. It’s a tricky balance to attempt, but the author blends the two throughout the story, making the book part travelogue – with details not only of the beauty of Africa but graphic details of the horrors and brutality during civil war in Sierra Leone – and part chick lit.
“Making it Up as I Go Along” introduces an appealing new heroine to the growing number of books about women trying to make the best choices. And as every mother knows, it never hurts to have another person’s foibles to smile at knowingly.
Mia Geiger is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area.