Confusion. Holes in her memory. A surreal sense of two separate lives that veered from one path into two during her younger years.
Patricia Cowan remembers a few incontrovertible facts about herself. She was born in Weymouth, England, in 1926. She attended Oxford University. And at one point, she was involved with a man named Mark.
But did she marry Mark and have four children and five stillbirths? Or did she live with Bee and have two biological children and one whom Bee gave birth to, but who was also her “real” child?
In both lives, Patty (or Trish or Pat) ended up with memory issues, living alone in a home, trying to piece together the lives she had lived and the choices she had made.
My Real Children was impossible to put down, and one could feel confused before reaching the final page. But along the way, the story of each life is told in alternate chapters, from the perspective of either Trish (four children, married to Mark) or Pat (living with Bee and with two children of her own and one who was not).
The narration is a summary of life moments, skipping ahead quickly in order to bring decades of two separate lives to the reader, from the 1940s to 2015. There were many characters, but some of them left an indelible print on the lives of our narrators, either through loving kindness or condescension, as in the case of Mark. He treated Trish badly, and demanded from her all the things an old-fashioned male chauvinist would expect from a wife. It is easy to see how an alternate life with a loving partner like Bee would appeal to Trish/Pat. The children in the life of Pat and Bee were more loving as well.
Could Patricia have imagined that life as an escape from the dreary one she shared with Mark? If the “real children” were the ones she shared with Mark, she would have to accept that they were dismissive and condescending, instead of the loving, caring children from her alternate life. In the end, however, Patricia concludes that they are all her “real” children, as she loved them all, no matter how they came to be or how they treated her.
I won’t stop thinking about this story and what it reveals about the nature of choice and memory. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy a good “sliding” reality tale. 4 stars.