Surrogates, Violence, and Immigrants
It's Minnesota Alumni's quarterly books roundup
The popularity of surrogacy
among middle-aged Hollywood
actors has all but normalized the
experience in American culture.
But in reality, there is nothing simple
about having another woman carry your
baby, a fact beautifully explored in The
Surrogate (Harper), the first
novel of Toni Halleen (J.D. ’88).
Although her protagonist
is a Minneapolis journalist
instead of a movie star, the
story starts familiarly enough:
40-something childless woman
(Ruth) enters late marriage
with lawyer Hal; he has two
kids, but she longs for a baby
of her own. Sex doesn’t lead
to pregnancy, nor does IVF.
Adoption is dismissed because,
as Ruth puts it, “you’re never
sure what you’re getting,
Enter Cally, a broke, unmarried 20-year-old in desperate
need of money for college.
Before long, Hal has drafted a
lengthy surrogacy contract and
Cally is pregnant. The book opens dramatically, with Cally making a daring escape
from her hospital room just hours after
giving birth to a baby girl she names Nell.
After calling on her ex-boyfriend,
Digger, to supply the getaway car, the
two young people plus baby Nell hit the
road for Duluth on a frosty winter night
while Ruth and Hal, alerted to their disappearance, freak out back in Minneapolis.
Although Cally had fully intended to hand
over her infant after giving birth, she finds
out that doing so isn’t quite as simple as
she had assumed. When Digger, shocked
by the kidnapping, asks if she no longer
wants the money, Cally replies, “I do. But
when I saw her, and the way she looked at
me, I just . . . couldn’t.”
Halleen skillfully conveys the feelings
and impulses of both women: There is
no bad guy here, and you’ll find yourself
rooting for Ruth and Cally. The men are
not as skillfully drawn, seeming more
interchangeable than three-dimensional
characters. And though the novel slows
down toward the end, and its conclusion
is rather pat, overall The Surrogate is a
compelling and thought-provoking read.
And the rest. . . .
2020 was one of the most unsettling years in recent history. And nowhere was that truer than in Minneapolis, where the murder of George Floyd and its subsequent racial reckoning rocked the town, leading to much soul searching about the pernicious racism woven through U.S. culture. We Are Meant to Rise: Voices for Justice from Minneapolis to the World (University of Minnesota Press), edited by Carolyn Holbrook and David Mura, is an attempt to articulate and reflect on that trauma, with essays and poems from an impressive group of Indigenous writers and writers of color, including Louise Erdrich, Shannon Gibney, and Kao Kalia Yang.
Independent publisher Milkweed Editions was born 40 years ago from a literary and visual arts journal called Milkweed Chronicle. The compelling story of how this venerable publishing company developed and grew is told by cofounder Emilie Buchwald (Ph.D. ’71) in her new book A Milkweed Chronicle: The Formative Years of a Literary Nonprofit Press (Milkweed Editions).
With cofounder Randy Scholes, the
journal successfully published a wide
range of poetry, photographs, drawings,
and more before being eliminated in
1987 in favor of its rapidly growing book
publishing arm. In A Milkweed Chronicle,
Buchwald—now retired and in her
80s—relates the exciting early days of
both the journal and the press, when they
published such local luminaries as Paul
Gruchow, Carol Bly, and Bill Holm, as well
as award-winning books such as Patricia
Hampl’s Spillville and Larry Watson’s
Poet, author, and editor Sun Yung Shin
and the Minnesota Historical Society
Press have already given us one excellent
anthology—A Good Time for the Truth:
Race in Minnesota. Now they have
produced another, this one focused on the
abiding importance and cultural meaning
of food, particularly for immigrants. In
What We Hunger For: Refugee and
Immigrant Stories about Food and Family
(Minnesota Historical Society Press), Yung
Shin (who, along with many of this book’s
contributors, has University of Minnesota
connections) includes offerings from Hmong, Afghani, Sri Lankan, and Haitian
writers, among others. They write of longing for the dishes of their homelands and
struggling to find the proper ingredients
for them in the U.S. This was particularly
tough for the many Hmong and Vietnamese people who arrived in the Twin
Cities in the late ’70s. One essayist writes
of trying to prepare Banh Mi using the
squishy loaves of bread that were all local
groceries had to offer, and her excitement
when the first French/Vietnamese bakery
opened in St. Paul.
Going back to the land is an American impulse that has never truly disappeared. In Woodsqueer (Trinity University Press), writer Gretchen Legler (M.A. ’91, Ph.D. ’94)—long drawn to the outdoors and the author of All the Powerful Invisible Things: A Sportswoman’s Notebook and On the Ice: An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdo Station, Antarctica—writes about one such experiment. Several years ago, she forged an agrarian life on 80 acres in backwoods Maine. Legler’s title has a double meaning: Woodsqueer is used to describe the strange mindset of a person who has lived in the wild for an extended period, but it may also describe Legler and her partner. What follows is in part a predictable rural tale of chopping wood, raising chickens, and foraging for mushrooms, but it is skillfully interwoven with the dramatic personal saga of Legler’s past relationships, ill-begotten love affairs, and ultimately, happy marriage to Ruth.
Lynette Lamb (M.A. ’84) is a Minneapolis writer and author of the memoir Strokeland.