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LFCA Latest Issue: Friday, September 25, 2009.

Latest Post on BlogHer: Parenting after Infertility.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Book Tour #7: Happiness Sold Separately

Intrigued by the idea of a book tour and want to read more about Happiness Sold Separately? Hop along to more stops on the Barren Bitches Book Brigade Tour by visiting the master list in the post above. Want to come along for the next tour? Sign up begins today for tour #8 (The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood) and all are welcome to join along (see the post above to sign up). All you need is a book and blog.

Lolly Winston's books take you right to the edge of your worst fears and allow you to peer down into the valley with a safety rail between you and reality. In Good Grief, Winston explores the months following the death of a spouse. From the grief that hits you in the most unexpected of places--think breakdown in the produce section--to the rebuilding of a life, Winston's book is raw and hopeful at the same time. Happiness Sold Separately is a wonderful second novel exploring the worst fears associated with infertility--the breakdown of a marriage, the loss of a hard-won pregnancy, the domino effect leading down through grandchildren. She writes the book with an aching beauty that had me nodding my head at times and shouting at the characters at others. The book drew me in and I cared about the characters, and that, for me, is the mark of a good read.

The end of the book was left open to the reader. Do you think that Elinor and Ted stayed together, or that they really finally separate? Did she pursue adoption on her own, or did they do another round of IVF with PGD? Do you think she ended up happy, or did she continue to struggle?

I like that Winston didn't neatly wrap up the novel with a pat, clear ending. Life is messy--infertility is extremely messy--and I think all the characters bounced through so many conflicting emotions through the text that it would have been a let-down if they had found perfect clarity simply because we were on the last page.

I set down the book choosing to believe that Ted and Elinor stayed together. I think they actually have a lot in common in their grief and one of their problems is that they never share their mutual grief. I'd like to believe that the blow to Ted's head actually made him wake up and see that he should have shared that dream with Elinor when his heart was ready to explode with excitement over the idea of adoption. Elinor never believes that Ted will be right alongside her on the journey, but I think if she let him be there in the way that he expresses himself (and not as a reflection of her own expression), she would see that he is just as desirous of a family and adoption would be an excellent path to parenthood for them.

Lolly circles back repeatedly to examine the peculiar dynamics of a marriage plagued by infertility. In particular, she focuses on the conflicting desires for closeness and distance that Elinor experiences. Why do you think Elinor "is irritated by her husband when he was attentive, and then resentful when he stepped back to giver her room?" (p. 12). Even during difficult treatment cycles, Ted was not a source of comfort to her (p. 26). Why?

You know how you feel when your back hurts and it makes your entire body hurt and consequently, you can never get comfortable. Your whole body focuses on that pain. It hurts to have other people touch you, you can't get into a comfortable position, you think rolling onto your side will help, but it only brings more pain.

That's sort of what infertility is like. The back is the connection for the whole body and the soul is the connection for all emotions. Infertility is like having an inflamed soul.

I think infertility and loss can cause so much pain that there isn't a comfortable position. And even if pockets of comfort can be found within the panic, it isn't a permanent fix. It can be suffocating to see your life unfold in a way that you never dreamed possible. We can, within reason, choose our careers. We can't, at times, choose the role we always thought we would own--parenthood.

As we see glimpses into Ted & Elinor's relationship after their unsuccessful fertility treatments, we discover that Ted seeks solace in the garage and the gym -- places where he can "fix" things. Elinor finds refuge in the laundry room and by re-reading classic novels from college. Why do you think Elinor is drawn to these activities? What activities do you engage in as a way to soothe your soul during your fertility quest and why do you think you are drawn to them? What about your partner - does he/she have places or tasks that provide some refuge?

Bread baking. It started either pre-treatments or at the beginning of treatments. Josh bought me a bread textbook that had bread baking lessons as well as a bread stone for the oven. It was the perfect medium to work through my frustrations. It was warm and soft and smelled good. It wouldn't be a stretch to play Freud and say that dough became my replacement for a baby. I think Elinor was drawn to laundry for the same reason I was drawn to bread baking. There is a rhythm to it and it feels productive. It is a low stakes accomplishment. If the laundry bleeds, you can usually fix the stains. If the bread doesn't rise, you can force the dough or start over. It's low stakes. And it's on my time. My cycle, the whole idea of trying and waiting and having such a small window of a chance for things to happen, it's maddening how much of it is tied to time. I can bake bread whenever I wish. I can bake it at night or in the morning. I can churn out 48 bagels and then ignore the oven for the next few weeks. It's all on my terms.

I was actually thinking about writing a bread post that people could print out and try in their kitchen. A bread baking online tutorial. Yes? No? Would you want to learn how to make bagels?


Lori said...

Yes, I WOULD love to know how to make bagels. Not that I will actually DO so.

Regarding Q1, do you think that staying with Ted, grieving together, and finally adopting would bring Elinor happiness?

It's timely that this book coincides with your happiness challenge. What do you think the title refers to -- Happiness sold separately from what?

Q3: Bread baking and laundry washing are also very home-y & hearth-y activities. Almost as if there is a primal return to the home after we 21st century women have conquered the working world.

Pamela Jeanne said...

Your observation that "infertility and loss can cause so much pain that there isn't a comfortable position" is one of the reasons I stiff armed just about everyone in my life after I realized that conception wasn't in the cards for me. Just now learning to connect again. Fear of pain and more suffering is what held me back.

As for bagels, I love to eat them but I'm pretty much hopeless in the kitchen.

Drowned Girl said...

Interesting that you think Ted and Elinor get back together... my answer was that they probably didn't... but we both agree that Lolly Winston doesn't bring the book to a close with a pat happy ending.

I do think that Ted and Elinor stay friends, and find peace, and probably find their ways to parenthood.

Bea said...

I can't promise you bagels, but I do like your answer to that question. There's all sorts of activities that can fill that role, and I think you're right about why they do.


Samantha said...

I just want to say that I agree that baking bread is very soothing. There's something about kneading dough and the yeasty smell that just puts one in a trance. Plus if it works out, the results are nice to eat, but like you said, it's low-stakes. I've made bagels before, but not in a long time.

Like Drowned Girl, I suspected that Ted and Elinor broke apart. They had already put such emotional distance between themselves, that even when they started healing (and I do think they both started healing), they continued to move in separate directions. They both cared about each other very much, but it seemed like things had changed forever in their marriage and given Ted's love for Gina, it wasn't going to work out in the future.

I like your answer to #2.

Fertilize Me said...

I am glad that you think ted and elinor got back together .. most of me thought they did too .. and starting talking to eachother

as for bread -i am jealous. I always wanted a bread maker

ms. c said...

Yes to the bread! Yes yes yes! (as you were writing about it I was feeling like I wanted to take part!)

When I read the book I was certain that Elinor and Ted did not stay together in the end. I love the book brigade because it's great to see everyon'es different points of view.

candy said...

first of all, yes bread and bagels.

"I think infertility and loss can cause so much pain that there isn't a comfortable position." that is a truly amazing and perfect analogy for infertility.

i'm gald you thought they stayed together. all the other bloggers (myself included) voted separated. it just felt to me the same it feels when couples with children don't get along anymore but stick it out "for the kids." it's an admirable idea, but seems like it could do as much harm as good. i think ted and elinor sticking it out because of their mutual grief or future expectations or hopes would be a little tricky. i think ted could find happiness there, but i'm not sure elinor could.

thanks for the tour. you rock.

Mommy Someday said...

I would LOVE to learn how to make bagels!!! There are NO good bagel places where I live.

I am glad to see you thought they would stay together. Infertility causes so much pain. We feel the loss of our bodies...I can't imagine adding the loss of my best friend/husband, too.

Deb said...

Interesting interpretation of the ending. I like endings that keep you thinking a bit.

Bread making...mmmmm... good thing for my IR self I didn't take up that habit :) but there is something about making a loaf fresh and going through the whole process from flour to bake that can be soothing or frustrating which are both beneficial feelings at times.

Rebecca said...

As I was reading the book I desperately wanted Elinor and Ted to get together. I didn't even realize that I thought they wouldn't until I answered my book tour questions!

I definitely retreat to the kitchen as my place of solace. I'm into baking - cookies, cakes, cupcakes, frosting, etc. I was just telling my co-worker that it's time for me to get into bread. Any tutorials would be much appreciated!

Waiting Amy said...

Wow, I loved reading your answers. You always surprise me. I too was glad there was no trite ending, but did not think Ted and Elinor got back together. As others have said, I think they resolved things and were friends of a sort, but I didn't anticipate they could move forward together.

You are very on point with answer #2.

I love the results from bread baking, but worry that all that time and effort might flop. That drives me crazy!

orodemniades said...

Bagels? Hell ya!

The prospect of losing my marriage over infertility scares the hell out of me so much I decided I couldn't read this book. And, also, I didn't care for the characters very much from the blurbs that I've read about it...

Road Blocks and Roller Coasters said...

I totally agree with your analogy about bread making and laundry. I, like Elinor, am a laundry freak and can spend hours wrapped up in the fact that it is an easy goal for me to achieve.

I would actually like to hear about bread baking. Personally, I suck at baking mainly because I can never measure out the flour correctly (and this is with everything I've ever baked--ever!), so perhaps a lesson or two might get me out of my baking funk. :)

Ms. Infertile said...

I would love to leanr how to make bagels!

I'm glad that you thoguht the Elinor and Ted stayed together at the end. I like to believe that too. And, cooking is my thing to do to escape from the cycling. I think that it is calming and creative.

The Dunn Family said...

This is fun! I didn't think they ended up together. I just felt like they had come so far apart they wouldn't be able to bridge that gap. And in general, I just don't understand how such a trust can be broken in marriage, and then people find their way back to each other. I mean, how would she ever be able to trust him again? It made me sad for them, and I hate the thought of fertility problems breaking up anyones marriage.

deanna said...

You know, midway through the book, I was hopeful that Elinor & Ted might reconcile, but by the end, I was so fed-up with his wishy-washy ways, I was scripting her travel itinerary and loading up her bags for Ireland.

I loved your "comfortable position" answer. When I read that, I instantly thought of the knee surgery I had several years ago, and immediately knew what you meant. Sometimes, just the air is too much.

Bagel How-To Session---Yes, Please!

Anonymous said...

OK, I may just have to set up a blog if only to take part in these book tours!! I read/devoured this book while I was on vacation in August & could totally relate to Elinor & her feelings. As I read through some of the other bloggers' comments, two observations occurred to me that I don't think anyone else has mentioned yet:

1) re: Elinor's obsession with the laundry: first, laundry is a process of cleansing & washing away dirt & debris -- which Elinor no doubt wished she could do with the other dirt & debris of her life. Second, it's also an uber-domestic task that gives her a feeling of competence that she's lacking in that other, most domestic of roles, having & raising children.

2) Elinor's other obsession with Warren, the tree: trees often repesent life & growth -- not to mention the "family tree" & the whole concept of "roots." The destruction of Warren was not only the loss of a source of comfort, it symbolized the loss of Elinor's hopes for a family with branches & roots.

Right up until the last paragraph I was sure Elinor & Ted were splitting up. After reading that, I wasn't quite so sure. I think the relationship is still salvageable, but they both have a lot of work to do.

loribeth (once an English major -- how can you tell?)