No Kidding

by Wendy Tokunaga

Published by iUniverse.com

232 pages, 2000


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No Babies. Please.

Reviewed by Sienna Powers

 

Once upon a time in the surprisingly not so distant past, it was understood that for a woman to achieve fulfillment she must, at some point in her life, produce at least a small amount of fruit from her womb. Increasingly, with the pressures of career, the passions of personal interests and the pleasures of having a life, women are not universally choosing to have children as a matter of course. In fact that word -- choice -- becomes key. Some women continue to be interested in repopulating the planet. Others, quite simply, aren't.

This choice, or rather the discovery that she can have one, consumes much of Wendy Tokunaga's first novel, No Kidding. The novel begins on a note of cacophony:

It was a familiar sound but startling nonetheless. It began as a lone piercing scream in the distance .... It was a female voice of course -- not even a eunuch's voice could soar that high. Then I heard more and more of these calls that reminded me of birds -- of crows cawing or parrots screeching.

"Ohh, ooh!" the voices shrieked. At first these were the only words I could make out but then others became clear.

"Kee-yute!"

"Precious!"

"Just adorable!"

The voices got louder and louder. One shouted my name.

"Come on! Yvonne Callahan's brought in her new baby!"

What narrator Audrey can't understand is her own lack of excitement when the latest office baby is brought in for inspection. She's not enchanted when the newborn breaks wind, nor does she feel compelled to follow along when all the office would-be mothers trundle off to the ladies room to watch the "momentous event" when the baby is changed.

At a time in her life when her biological clock should be getting ready to explode, Audrey can't drum up any interest in her own potential motherhood. To make matters worse, it seems that almost everyone in her life can understand this lack in her even less than she: her fiancé starts making family noises and her mother insists on dragging her from one baby shower to the next while expressing her disappointment that her offspring hasn't produced any of her own.

While the topic that Tokunaga tackles in No Kidding is both relevant and timely, Audrey is not the most sympathetic of heroines. In fact, she's not even someone with whom most of us would want to spend much time. After she walks out on her longtime live-in fiancé for wanting to go "suburban" and who was beginning to aspire to a "picket fence, kids, the works," Audrey goes more or less directly to her new lover's house. And sure, stuff like this does happen in real life, it just doesn't do much to recommend Audrey's character to the reader. And while Audrey's complaints about the "baby conspiracy" of everyone in her life putting pressure on her to make use of her womb are valid, she spends much of No Kidding posturing, whining, evading, complaining and, ultimately, settling.

At one point Audrey gets into an argument with her pregnant sister, Pier. "Sorry," Pier says, "I thought we were just having a conversation. God! Don't take everything so personally." Audrey doesn't really respond. Rather she thinks about how this had always been Pier's way of bailing "out of an argument. Always tried to make it seem like the other person was just overly sensitive; that her 'straightforwardness' was a virtue that people just had to get used to." And while we're meant to sympathize with the narrator, it's difficult not to agree with Pier: Audrey does take things too personally and she could use a measure or two of straightforwardness herself: the personal evasions she's always making get her nowhere.

No Kidding is often humorous and many of the characters are memorable. Tokunaga handles her material well and her prose sometimes sparkles. The topic is a good one and the author's arguments against automatic procreation are valid. However, Audrey is simply too annoying and duplicitous a heroine to ever allow No Kidding to soar. | March 2001

 

Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.