I like June Spence. I discovered her when my boyfriend took home her short story collection, Missing Women and Others, from a BookSale foray. He didn’t know who she was—“I saw Fiction and Women and Stories!”—and I didn’t know who she was either. When I read the title story, a few pages into it, I realized that June Spence was writing short stories the way I wanted my own short fiction to be written. I loved her instantly.
And so when I found her novel Change Baby on sale at Fully Booked, I grabbed it. The blurb seems pretty straight-forward:
Avie Goss is a change baby, born to her mother late in life, almost a generation after her two siblings. When her mother nearly dies in a house fire, Avie returns to the home she abandoned after college to look after her. But her motives are not completely altruistic; Avie also needs a break from her complicated and disastrous love-life. She decides to stay longer than planned and surprises herself by finding her rual home town is not without its charms; none more so than enigmatic newcomer, Saul.
Through a tangled web of relationships–with her family, her mother’s oldest friend, and Avie’s married ex-lover–she comes upon a new understanding of herself and her place within her family legacy. As she better learns who she is as a daughter, as a friend, and lover, Avie must decide what kind of person she wants to be, and how she will embark on her future.
I read the first half of the novel in the cemetery, and the second half in a hammock swinging from a mango tree. I read it in one go, breaking off only to snooze, and to step out for an introspective cigarette break. So–does this mean the novel was engrossing, or I just didn’t have anything else to read? Hm.
But. What the blurb didn’t tell you:
1. Avie Goss, although the principal narrator, shares that role with her mother, Marby Goss, and Marby’s oldest friend, Zephra Overby. Marby and Zephra step in when an exposition is needed on the facts and stories Avie discovers about her family. Marby and Zephra talk about how they met, why they stayed together, what heartaches are between them. Very distinct voices from the three of them, their generations mirrored, and those little nuances in their language are carried off quite well. Oh, and Marby and Zephra aren’t all I’m Old You Should Know This, that’s why they’re all narrator-y; through Avie’s insistence, and the fact that people just reach that point where they have to tell, these little glimpses (straight from the horses’ mouths, so to speak) lend a credibility–a truth–to all those family secrets.
2. The novel is less about Avie’s life beyond the town of Regina. It focuses more on the past, the history of the Goss family, and how Avie–an outsider on account of her late-in-life appearance–fits in with all of that.
3. Saul, that enigmatic newcomer, is cute. He’s cute in a “pastor-intern” kind of way. If it seems like their “romance,” is some Adriana Trigiani-esque trope, it’s not. That is, the romance isn’t really explored much. This is not Avie Goss’s love story. But it doesn’t matter. I was content with the whole thing, even how Avie reconciled with her issues pre-Regina, which includes her married luuurver, Jack.
4. Near the end of the novel, [highlight, very very very slightly spoiler-ish], with all the revelations stocking up, you will not go, Whaaaat? Spence is an able writer that whatever potential for melodrama there is, is tempered. That is, the revelations here are not your soap opera variety, they won’t make you think, “OMG V.C. ANDREWS IS THAT YOU?” So, yeah. I give her that.
So. Would I want you to read this? Yes. Yes, of course. The prose is fantastic, the language exact and faithful to the generations, the times. But if there’s a toss-up between this novel and her short story collection, I’d like people to choose the short fiction–that displayed Spence’s versatility, her skill with language and distinct voices, and all-around awesomeness.
All in all, Change Baby is an okay novel. I recognize the handling of the language, and the plot and the revelations–the characterization, the characters, their voices. It was a good novel. I recognize that it’s a very good novel. But I don’t know–it just didn’t touch my heart (haha). And yes, I’m jumping the gun when I say that it just might be a novel that won’t linger. And me, loving June Spence as much as I do, well, this hurts me–I so wanted to be blown away.
But. To quote Billy Collins (his poem, “Workshop“): “Maybe that was just me. / Maybe that’s just the way I read it.” :)