In their quest to become mothers, three women find their lives intersecting in unexpected ways in this novel of family — the ones we have, the ones we create — and love.
Carol Snow’s What Came First follows Laura, Vanessa and Wendy as they grapple with issues both familiar and foreign to many mothers. Laura and her bright, kind-hearted son, Ian, love their lives in suburban California. Born after Laura’s visit to a sperm bank nearly a decade before, the two-unit family would like nothing more than to welcome a third . . . but Laura, perpetually single, isn’t sure how to make that happen. Posting on a website designed to link families who may have conceived children from the same sperm donor, she eventually “meets” Wendy — a harried mother of twins.
Wendy’s son and daughter have major behaviorial issues, a problem that drives her to seek out potential biological siblings to compare notes on her kids’ temper tantrums. After Wendy and Carol exchange notes and start their own research into their children’s DNA, they eventually find an answer to some of their questions — which leads them to Vanessa, a twenty-something trying to get a diamond from her live-in boyfriend. Ready to start a family of her own, Vanessa waits desperately for an engagement ring . . . but Eric seems no closer to committing than he did when they met.
All three women have trials, difficulties; no one’s life is perfect. And that’s what I loved about Snow’s novel dealing with fertility, motherhood, what it means to be a family — and what I always appreciate about her warm, rich and true-to-life characters. I probably related best to Laura, a type-A go-getter who can’t accept her family won’t grow. Her desire to have another baby seemed enviable rather than desperate, and I definitely felt her frustration and pain.
Vanessa was probably my least favorite character, especially as events . . . transpired . . . (sorry, trying to be obtuse and non-spoilery here) and she failed to understand the importance of it all. I was sympathetic to her plight and felt her frustration regarding her relationship with Eric, too, but sometimes felt like she was just so young. Though her issues were no less important, Vanessa’s problems seemed to pale in comparison to Wendy and Laura’s. But then again, what do I know?
Where the story began and where it ended were completely different than I expected, and I love that What Came First surprised me from beginning to end. Though often light-hearted and very witty, Snow’s novel also raised questions about how families are formed and how love develops. In Wendy’s case, especially, I could see how difficult conceiving children who were not biologically “his” was for her husband, and these troubles were something I’d never considered before. I love a good slice of women’s fiction that also makes me think!
Fans of Snow — as I am, from books like Just Like Me, Only Better — will appreciate her take on love, relationships and moving forward. If you’ve never devoured a Carol Snow novel, you’re missing out — and What Came First is a great, feel-good place to start.
4 out of 5!