The Baby Merchant by Kit Reed
|Kit Reed is the highly esteemed author of the A.L.A. Alex Award winning novel Thinner Than Thou, a book reviewer for The Washington Post Book World and The New York Times Book Review, and a board member of the Authors League Fund. The Baby Merchant is her fourth book published by TOR Books.|
If you'll allow a digression, I'd like to step outside the review for a moment. This site is in its infancy still, and I must confess it was with great eagerness that I received my first review copy, The Baby Merchant, from TOR Books. I've heralded and lambasted TOR novels on this site in the past, but it is with a heavy heart that I review this book, a book I did not pay for, from an author I had heard wonderful things about and whom I enjoyed listening to speak on a panel at Readercon in 2005.
The Baby Merchant, while technically superb, is the most hate-filled, venomous, scathing piece of misandry I have ever had the displeasure to experience. The vile loathing of men that permeates each page is unparalleled in genre fiction. It is the literate treatment of the stereotypical Lifetime movie: Evil man beats wife, kills the dog, and steals the kids -- but the heroic and pure-hearted woman saves the day by outsmarting the lackwit brute.
The story is kind of neat; it's the details that sour the book. An unwanted boy grows up and fills a capitalistic void in a near future of barren wombs for women in their 30's or older. This is reportedly due to additives in food and impurities in the air and water, but there are hints that the government is trying to curb birthrates in lower income families. Unfortunately for some, it seems to have affected all women over a certain age. Tom Starbird is a provider of babies for the ultra rich and powerful who can not have children on their own. A sociopath with deranged ideals, he believes he is doing good in placing 'unwanted' (abducted) children with loving families who will give the child everything they could ever want or need. The completely twisted sub plot is that Reed obviously has a sense of empathy for this character; she makes no secret of these beliefs by showing us a preposterous relationship between a useless boy and his uncaring mother. This is exactly what Starbird exists to prevent, and playing God seems to be exactly what Reed wishes to do.
Each and every male character introduced is more contemptible than the last, while each female is either the perfect, talented, and intelligent heroine, or has a man to blame for her shortcomings. Pregnancy is portrayed as a curse "your body's been carjacked", but not being able to get pregnant is even worse. Numerous times it's drilled into our heads that the sperm donor is of no consequence -- 'it's her body after all.'
"This isn't your inalienable right, you jerk, it has nothing to do with you." -in reference to her pregnancy, specifically with regards to the father, a character who, at this point in the novel, has done nothing but try to take responsibility for his actions and be a father to his child. Of course, later in the novel, he is revealed to be a total scumbag. He has a penis, after all.
And of course, the woman who thought this detestable vitriol is the heroine of the story, Sasha.
The protagonist couple in search of baby features a despicable egoist of a news anchor husband, and a miserable high-powered lawyer of a wife who just wants a baby (and has gone through a myriad of torturous procedures to become pregnant; her husband has done the same, but his efforts are belittled by our narrator). The husband, Jake Zorn, uses his muck-raking Geraldoesque investigative reporting to blackmail Tom Starbird into acquiring a baby for the aging couple, while the downtrodden wife, Maury, wistfully languishes oblivious to all wrongdoing. The baby that Starbird chooses as the perfect match for the Zorn's happens to be the previously unwanted baby of the oh-so pitiable billionaire heiress and art prodigy, Sasha. I say previously unwanted because despite her intention of giving the baby up for adoption, at the moment of birth she magically develops motherly instincts and becomes Super Mom.
A scared child mother throughout most of the book, when Sasha's baby is finally abducted by Starbird, she becomes a supernatural (and unbelievable) force to be reckoned with. We are even to believe that she blackmails the Savannah, Georgia police department into flying her by helicopter to find her missing child.
As I stated before, the novel is well constructed. Kit Reed's writing is technically flawless, and the juxtaposition of her different points of view is intriguing -- if one can get past her flagrant bitterness towards the male of the species. I could not. When the women save the day, and all the men end up dead or in prison, Reed still can not help herself -- she makes a last ditch attack on deadbeat dads, further trying to reinforce that men are vile. As if there were no deadbeat moms.
The Baby Merchant is hate mongering of the highest order, and I have never been made so physically ill and upset by a work of fiction. Avoid it like the plague.
Thankfully, this novel promises to go widely unread and quickly forgotten. Avoid.