In Gone with the Wind, during an argument about their daughter, Rhett Butler says to Scarlett, "As for the sanctity of motherhood, a cat's a better mother than you." Sadly, this appears to also be the case for most of characters seeking adoption of baby girls from China in Ann Hood's The Red Thread. Hood presents an array of couples that are seriously flawed to the extent that one cannot ever imagine entrusting any of these folks with a baby.
First, Hood gives us Nell, a type-A personality for whom the acquisition of a baby is the most important thing. Clearly, with her careful planning and her endless checklists, she has not thought past the immediate gratification of receiving a baby to what will happen when she actually takes her home. Her distant relationship with her husband, Ben, barely qualifies as a marriage, promising a barren emotional climate for her new baby to enter. Then there is Susannah, whose own biological daughter suffers from a rare genetic disorder, rendering her inadequate to satisfy Susannah's maternal instincts. She longs for a "perfect" baby girl instead. In addition, Hood introduces Brooke, who on the surface appears to be the ideal mother-in-waiting, but who ultimately decides she is unwilling to share her husband with a baby. These women seem far too self-absorbed to ever be appropriate parents, and Hood describes them in such detail that they become less likeable as the novel unfolds.
As if these American women are not nasty enough, Hood paints a dim picture of Chinese culture and their one-child rule as well. A Chinese husband steals away his wife's daughter while she is sleeping and drops her off at an orphanage. A man whose wife has died in an accident surrenders his own daughter rather than raise her by himself. Hood presents these heartbreaking vignettes in a matter-of-fact manner that bespeaks the prevailing attitudes about female babies in China.
While many of the Chinese characters are presented as unfeeling villains, Hood also creates benevolent characters that are impossibly good. Maya, who despite her personal tragedy, seems nearly saint-like in her patience and unwavering support of the other moms-to-be, and Charlie, Brooke's husband, who devotes himself to making his wife happy at the expense of his personal happiness and ultimately loses the thing he wants the most. They are unbelievable in their selflessness.
With its themes of motherhood, infidelity, jealously and blended families, this is truly a novel written for women, about women. Think "Oprah book club selection," marinated in estrogen, then discussed at length on The View. That's how "female" this book is. Hood presents a world in which the pursuit of a baby is the ultimate achievement. She manages to capture the desperation of childless couples, the complications of second marriages, and the abject panic at the prospect of actually receiving a baby but all in a way that seems to exclude the male perspective on any of these issues. Because the female characters are so exquisitely depicted, the males come across as shallow and flat. Given their many faults and foibles, ultimately, the reader is left wondering how any of these couples could ever successfully raise these babies that they are so desperate to adopt.
© 2010 Lynn DuPree
Lynn DuPree is an Associate Professor of English at a private university in Madison, Wisconsin. She holds a Masters Degree in Secondary Education from Viterbo University and is currently completing a Masters Degree in English-Literacy, Technology and Professional Writing from Northern Arizona University. She has been an educator for over 20 years.