This is a strange book that was more interesting and intricate than I realized until near the end. The book itself is a rather intimate first person narration of a father, in the capacity of being a father. The narration feels like it’s pretty close if not directly about Peter Ho Davies, and certainly gives that impression. The novel is about a father who has a son, and in addition to this son, he’s still giving a lot of thought and feeling to an abortion he was also part of in the earlier years of the marriage. The son sort of answers the question he’s been fearing answering: did the abortion doom him to never being a father? Well, the answer is no, it didn’t, but it did serve as a placeholder for complicated feelings. One of the late points the novel reminds of is that the politicizing of abortion in the United States (and Peter Ho Davies is Britsh, but his character in this book seems to work in the US, so the narrative around abortion is deeply controlled by right wing forces (and Catholic forces). This narrative is that abortion comes with regret. But the left wing pushback to this, is that women who get abortions overwhelmingly experience a sense of relief. But all things allow for things, and don’t allow for things. The narrator here feels something about that abortion, and he also feels conflicted about what he’s allowed to feel. He later comes to understand that even if he doesn’t really feel regret, he does feel grief.
So the book is mired in these feelings while really trying to make sense of the complicated position he finds himself in as a father, as a husband, as a more or less liberal person navigating the world. The novel itself sometimes feels like an exercise in thought more than a novel, but it’s still compelling.