Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Doctor And The Diva by Adrienne McDonnell

Young Dr. Ravell is a rising star in early 20th century obstetrics, famous for helping young couples conceive. He is flattered when a family of prominent Boston doctors seeks his aid for one of their own—beautiful Erika von Kessler, an opera singer who yearns for a child. She and her husband have tried everything to no avail. Her husband Peter has dragged her to every doctor and rejected her to every procedure available, sparing her no discomfort or humiliation in his quest to father a child of his own. Adoption or artificial insemination with sperm from a donor is out of the question as far as he in his masculine pride is concerned. And Erika’s family fears the despondent Erika will take her own life if she cannot become pregnant.

Dr. Ravell secretly subjects Peter’s sperm to microscopic analysis and discovers that he is sterile. Also concerned for Erika, and what she may be planning to do, he decides to implant her with his own sperm instead of Peter’s.

But Erika is not planning to kill herself, instead she is planning to ditch her life as a high society wife and go to Italy—the tickets on a White Star Line ocean liner have already been bought—and pursue her dream of becoming a famous opera singer.

A few days before she is set to sail, Erika discovers that she is pregnant. Though she has wanted this for years, she is also dismayed to have to relinquish her dream of a singing career. And when her child is born dead, she blames herself, knowing she harbored such thoughts.

When Dr. Ravell’s career is ruined by a malicious woman and gossip of his amorous escapades becomes public knowledge, he leaves Boston to work on a friend’s coconut plantation in Trinidad. But Peter will not let go, unaware of the doctor’s deception, of the substitution of sperm, he is determined to try again, and with Erika in tow, following Dr. Ravell to Trinidad. There Erika and Dr. Ravell begin an affair which will result in a son, Quentin, Peter will think is his own.

But Erika’s dream of becoming a star in the world of opera will not die. Motherhood, she finds, is not enough. She loves her son, but she finds her daily life tedious and chafing. She tries to convince Peter to agree to a plan that will allow her to pursue her dream, but he refuses, Her place is with her husband and son in Boston and he threatens her with divorce and that he will take full custody of Quentin.

Time is not on Erika’s side, and she knows it, her soaring soprano voice will have lost its power if she waits until her son is grown. It’s now or never.

And here I will bring the curtain down; I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. And I found it very interesting to learn about the fertility treatments that lingering veils of Victorian prudery and propriety still endeavored to conceal into the 20th century as if there were some kind of shame attached to infertility. I also applaud the way the author handled this story, it would have been all too easy to make this a typical romance, with glitz and glamour and fame and fortune like an old Hollywood musical where the music soars and all ends happily before “The End” appears upon the screen, but she did not give in to that temptation; Erika’s struggles with her marriage and her pursuit of a singing career are very realistically rendered.

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