For a book that is only 240 pages, the characters in The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward certainly had a lot of ground to cover. Mental illness, surrogacy, drug addiction and family relationships are all prevalent themes in this short, but ambitious novel. The prologue hooked me immediately and once I discovered that the main character, Suzette, was a highly esteemed heart surgeon at St. Luke’s in Houston I was completely emotionally invested. St. Luke’s is the very hospital where my own father received his new heart almost three years ago. The surgeons and staff we encountered during our stay there were absolutely as brilliant as Suzette is described. The settings throughout the book (Houston, Galveston, Grand Isle, New Orleans) are all places that my family and myself regularly frequent so it was enjoyable to read a story where I was familiar with the surrounding environment. I also appreciated the nod to literary greats scattered throughout the book, (Kate Chopin, Steven King, F. Scott Fitzgerald) and I loved that several of the characters were written as avid readers.
So, the synopsis. The Nearness of You centers around Hyland and Suzette Kendall. Suzette is a dedicated and brilliant heart surgeon at the top of her field who is stunned when her husband Hyland tells her he wants to have a child. Children were never something that Suzette envisioned for herself due to the demanding hours of her job and her background of severe mental illness. Hyland convinces her that if they went the route of surrogacy, they would avoid passing on anything genetic to their child. Suzette reluctantly agrees to this and so they begin the process of finding the perfect surrogate for them. Enter Dorothy Muscarello, a young woman with high hopes and big dreams of leaving her past behind and making something of herself. She has been accepted to Rice University but is unable to afford the tuition on her own. When the offer of surrogacy comes her way she sees it as the opportunity she has been waiting for to get out from under her mother’s roof and fund her way through college. She meets with the Kendalls and everything is agreed upon. Things begin to unravel fairly quickly however, once Dorrie becomes pregnant and starts to question her choice and role as surrogate.
This book had all the makings of a 5 star read. There was a lot of heaviness packed into these short 240 pages and while several hard topics were briefly touched on, I did not feel that the author really delved in to the meat of the matter. This story is told from multiple points of view and it did not always flow seamlessly to me. Eloise went from a two year old child to a teenager in roughly a few chapters. The information we are given about her upbringing with the Kendalls comes in brief flashbacks as Suzette rushes home in a moment of family crisis. It is evident that Eloise is troubled and doesn’t feel like she belongs, but I wish there had been more back story to that part of the plot. I also didn’t feel like Jayne needed her own chapters… that threw me a bit. I wish we had been given more information about Suzette’s childhood. It was obvious from the little that was written that Suzette lived through hell and I was very interested in the specifics as to how she got from where she was to the esteemed doctor that she turned out to be. A LOT of time was spent describing Suzette performing operations. I was fascinated by this and enjoyed reading about the surgeries, but I think the only reason that was is due to my emotional tie to St. Luke’s hospital. These operations were not pertinent to the story itself, and I could see how it may distract from the main plot for some readers.
The ending was also a huge let down for me so that knocked down the star rating as well. I don’t always need to have everything wrapped up with a nice, neat bow but to end it the way it did was disappointing to me. 3 out of 5 stars. Thank you to Netgalley and Ballantine Books for my advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.