Friday, June 22, 2007

Book Review: Like Always

Robert Elmer’s Like Always promises a tale of “triumph of real-life love.” In summary, Will and Merit Sullivan find themselves in midlife and their lives changing with their son returning home from Iraq, their decision to purchase an isolated resort and a surprise pregnancy. Knowing this information from the back cover, the first one-third of the book is far from engaging. Elmer is painfully slow in building up to the main plot and conflict. Furthermore, despite the claim of being based on a true story, Like Always seems contrived and overly sentimental.

The Sullivans are a nice family. Honestly, they probably are representative of the majority of Christian Americans in lacking a real sensibility of knowledge of what they claim to follow. The Sullivans are likable in their self-awareness of their shortcomings as Christians. For example, Will considers himself to be “a good lapsed Lutheran.” When the reader learns of Will’s vasectomy, a truly anti-life procedure, the Sullivans’ knowledge of the Christian life is exposed as being stunted and ill-formed; the Sullivans claim a faith they appear to acknowledge only when convenient, which provides the predictable conflict. Elmer puts a sexually selfish couple in a situation where being selfless is a hard lesson.

When the news of pregnancy and terminal illness are presented to Merit along with her options, Elmer creates two camps without much dialogue or reasoning between them. Merit makes a meritorious choice and is vociferously opposed to an abortion. She never questions forgoing treatment until following the birth of the baby. The other side, which includes the remaining Sullivans, the media and the doctors all make the outrageous claim that Merit is committing suicide. In exasperation at Merit’s decision, Will’s selfishness is confirmed once more as he asks, “Are you even thinking about how I might feel?” There is no mention of when life begins, the principle of double effect or other pressing issues at the core of the pro-life movement.

Without a doubt, Elmer has a pro-life agenda by writing a story of a mother’s unwavering value of the life of her unborn child. Unfortunately, Like Always is mildly satisfying as the real-life stories upon which it is based are simply better stories. Elmer does not hesitate to mention his inspiration for the story more than once: Rita Fedrizzi. Fedrizzi’s head-lining choice appeared less than one year following the canonization of St. Gianna Beretta Molla who refused treating a uterine tumor until following the birth of her child. St. Gianna died due to infection at the caesarean incision, but as a physician she understood the risks she freely chose.

Regardless of feeling manufactured, Like Always does offer characters who are somewhat likable due to their flaws and the story is refreshing in so far as the life of the baby is protected and cherished.