I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
It's 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. "Confused today," read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know—what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.
Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War—those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?
Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history. Each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan's lives...and of how every life means the entire world.
I have waffled back and forth between giving this book 4 or 5 stars—so let’s call it 4.5 stars. It really spoke to me—I loved the way Walton was so honest about the details of women’s lives and how true, at least to my life, it rang. What a great use of alternate history and different time lines! I have often speculated on how different life would be if different choices had been made through the course of my life. Thankfully, I’m pretty happy with how this particular time line has ended up for me, but I could see wondering about other realities if I were in an unhappy place.
I also appreciated the fact that neither time line that Pat/Trish inhabited was our time line—history was different from what I know in both situations and that somehow that added to the authentic feel of the book.
Plus, I find the central premise of the book to be so true—small decisions, as well as large ones, can change the course of a life. If I hadn’t gone to that particular workshop, then I wouldn’t have met this person, I wouldn’t have been recruited to a particular position and I wouldn’t have the same wonderful circle of friends that I currently enjoy. If I had chosen a different university to attend, I probably wouldn’t be living where I currently am with my current job. So, if there are alternate time lines, we each probably create many more than two! Life would bifurcate so often that it would become tremendously intricate.
In both time lines, Pat/Trish has a lot to cope with—all while being told that her female needs and desires are second class to those of men and/or straight people. The importance of friends can’t be emphasized enough—I have often said of my life, men come and go, but my women friends are the bedrock of a stable happy life. Mind you, I have also observed that although I have never missed having a husband, I could really use a wife to provide the support services that men rely on, sometimes without appreciation (and yes, Trisha’s husband Mark, I am thinking of you as I write this!). I think the current rash of sexual violence/harassment cases that we have experienced here in Canada in the last several weeks reveals that male entitlement is alive & well—but we do seem to be recognizing it, naming it, and starting to deal with it. It gives me hope that the next generation of women will have less of this crap to deal with.