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?