A few weeks ago, I heard about Jennifer Weiner’s new book Then Came You. The book is about 4 women who become entangled in each other’s lives as one of them turns to gestational surrogacy to have a baby, another one is the egg donor, the third is the surrogate and the fourth woman is the step-daughter of the woman pursuing surrogacy and who is convinced her step-mother is a gold digger out to ruin her father.
I shuddered when I read the synopsis of the book and not because it is “chick lit.” I’ve read Good in Bed and In Her Shoes, so I’m not anti-Weiner or anti-chick lit. I shuddered because I worried about how Weiner tackled the topic of surrogacy, especially since she seems to be relying on typical surrogacy stereotypes: rich Intended Parents, lower class, financially struggling gestational carrier and poor college student enticed and manipulated by dollar signs to donate her eggs.
Then last week as I was reading the NY Times blog Motherlode, I saw that one of the new posts was an interview with Weiner about the book: A Baby With Three Mothers.
After reading the interview, I was even more concerned about how surrogacy was handled in the book and how the Intended Mother was portrayed. I was curious about how much research Weiner had done on the topic (Then Came You isn’t her only book to feature surrogacy), so I tweeted her about it.
Within a few minutes, she replied:
I interviewed gestational surrogates and egg donors. But the characters came from my imagination, and any mistakes are my own…
I truly appreciated the response, but I thought it was interesting that she interviewed surrogates and egg donors but no one who had become parents through surrogacy. And that brings me to my primary question: what responsibility does an author have to do her homework? Does a fiction writer have any obligation to ensure that s/he is telling a story as authentically as possible, especially when the plot is about a topic as controversial as surrogacy? Especially when the author has the power to sell millions of books and can potentially change opinions?
Or can a writer also use the ol’ “I’m no role model; I’m just doing my job” line that badly-behaving athletes and entertainers use?
I understand the distinction between fiction and non-fiction, but it bothers me when infertility and its related treatments, challenges, emotions, etc. are used as a plot device and used poorly. There are few books in which infertility is handled accurately. If Jennifer Weiner’s book had been about cancer, I bet she would have done serious research and talked to doctors, family members and cancer patients themselves or else she would have been criticized for clearly not knowing what she was writing about.
I haven’t read the book, and I’m not going to read the book. I’ve read some reviews that make me think my initial assumption is correct, and I’ve read reviews that call the book her best yet. I realize that I’m being a bit pissy and possibly immature about this book when it might not be worth the sturm and drang.
So what are your thoughts? What responsibility does an author have to get the story right?