Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review: Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

I had no idea what this was really about when I received the review copy from the publisher. Then I found it on my "hafta read" pile for the Maine Reader's Choice Award panel. I hesitate to call it a delightful surprise since the subject matter, Eugenics, is one that is deeply controversial and ugly.

Evidently, in the US, several states had Eugenics programs in place allowing them to sterilize certain institutionalized citizens deemed unsuitable for procreating for a number of reasons, e.g., epilepsy, mental retardation, etc.  In North Carolina, the setting of this story, social workers were allowed to recommend this procedure on clients who were members of the general population without their residing in an institution.  Often they were simply poor, undereducated, and malnourished.

In the story, we follow Jane Forrester and Ivy Hart.  Jane is an upper middle class college graduate, recently married to a pediatrician who does not want his wife to work.  Jane has different ideas, wanting to have some sort of career before settling down to staying home to raise children.  She is hired as a social worker in North Carolina in the early 1960's.  Ivy Hart is one of her clients, a 15 year old girl who is trying hard to be a caregiver to a diabetic grandmother, a mother to her slightly retarded older sister and the sister's child "baby William" all the while trying to stay in high school and be the first in the family to graduate.

The poverty of the Hart family is thoroughly depressing and would crush the spirit of just about any normal person.  Ivy, with encouragement from Jane, is determined NOT to allow herself to become pregnant, and at the same time is doing everything she can to be sure that her sister, who is known to be quite promiscuous, does not have another child.  The social services department for whom Jane works, is determined to sterilize both girls.

Jane finds herself in the middle of a moral dilemma trying to help Ivy, obey her boss, and placate her husband while keeping him unaware of the specifics of her job.  As the timeline becomes more critical, Jane is forced to make decisions that will have a definite impact not only on her clients, but also on her own future.

This is a true page turner.  The characters are real, believable, and the story is horrifying in its implications.  The author has done significant research to present us with an in-depth look at the unbelievable options that actually occurred in this country just 50 short years ago.  It is a must read.

Title: Necessary Lies
Author: Diane Chamberlain
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (2013), Hardcover, 352 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Subject: Eugenics, social services
Setting: Rural North Carolina, 1960
Source: Review copy from the publisher.
Why did I read this book now? It was on the long list for the Maine Reader's Choice Award

1 comment:

  1. I like this author and I like the storyline of this book. Will be keeping an eye out for this one.


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