Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan
Mothers have a biological intuition on what to do once a baby is born. You feed them you make sure they are dressed and make sure you know they are loved. On occasion, however, things go wrong, and mothers think of harming their children. In this book, we meet an array of mothers, some more capable than others. Some calmer than others too.
Liz, Jess, Charlotte, and Mel met in a prenatal group ten years ago, when each woman was expecting her first child. The mothers remained friends ever since, though life’s responsibilities – and growing families – limited their social interactions.
Liz is now a senior doctor of pediatrics at St. Joseph’s Hospital in West London. One Friday night Liz is called down to the ER when a ten-month-old baby is brought in. According to the intake notes, the infant is nonmobile, irritable, drowsy, tearful, and has vomited. A glance at the child’s name, Betsey Curtis, shocks Liz. This is her friend Jess’s baby!
Jess, in turn, is relieved to see Liz. She exclaims, “Oh, thank god it’s you. I didn’t think we should come, but Ed was adamant. It’s so unlike him to worry, it panicked me into bringing her in.”
It turns out baby Betsey has a fractured skull, and Jess’s only explanation is that Betsey was trying to pull herself up on the refrigerator and fell. Jess suggests this must have caused the injury, which she hadn’t noticed before bringing the baby to the ER. Furthermore, Jess is acting suspiciously like there is more to the story.
Liz can’t allow herself to think her friend Jess purposely harmed Betsey but knows she has to report the incident to her superior, Dr. Neil Cockerill. Cockerill INSISTS Liz to call social services and then removes Liz from the case.
Little Betsey is admitted to the hospital; the police question Liz and her husband Ed; forensic experts examine the couple’s home; a social worker speaks to the couple’s two older sons; neighbors and local shop owners are interviewed; and so on. The outcome is that Jess is suspected of harming her child, and a social worker, Lucy Stone, is assigned to oversee Jess’s interactions with Betsey. Her sister is asked to stay in the home to watch the other children while the case is being investigated.
Liz KNOWS she did the right thing calling social services, but still feels guilty about putting her friend Jess in this predicament. Jess always seemed to be the perfect mother. She took excellent care of her children; kept an immaculate home; prepared delicious meals; and kept up her appearance. On top of that, Jess did all this with minimal help from her hard-working husband Ed, who was strictly a hands-off father outside of taking the boys to sports.
Though Liz has faith in Jess, she knows from experience that some women aren’t good mothers. Liz has memories of her own troubled, hard-drinking mother, whose neglect caused a terrible injury to her brother. Liz also has vague memories of seeing something happen to a baby when she was a toddler.
The novel is too long, with sections that don’t move the story forward. That said, it’s a compelling narrative about motherhood – a hard job made easier with support from the father, family, and friends. Even so, some women aren’t up to the task – temporarily or permanently – because of stress, anxiety, fatigue, frustration, post-partum depression, mental illness, or other vague factors.
The novel is billed as a psychological thriller, but it’s more of a domestic drama with a suspenseful thread. Several characters are keeping secrets, and I was curious to find out what these were. If you are one of those readers who follows stories closely some of the twists will come easy to you. This was given to me by NetGalley when the book first came out and I forgot to download it. I am rather disappointed that I did not get to sing this book’s praises when it first came out but I will be looking out for more books by this author.
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