The Abortionist’s Daughter
Mad Fashionista Enterprises
The Abortionist’s Daughter, by Elisa DeCarlo, gives an intimate look into the life of a young girl on the verge of her sexual awakening yet mired in the mores of her small town. We first meet Melanie Daniels after her family’s fall from grace—her father, once the town’s most prominent doctor, is arrested and imprisoned for the death of a woman as a result of an abortion that he performed. As the novel takes place in 1916, right on the verge of WWI, abortion is illegal. Her father now occupies his days with ‘the drink’ as Melanie and her mother muddle through life, scorned by their neighbors. Melanie dreams of something different, something more. Through this novel, DeCarlo asks us the question: do we have the courage to make a change? Do we have the audacity to break the rules, ignore the expectations, and be happy?
At first glance, The Abortionist’s Daughter seems like your run-of-the-mill coming-of-age story. A young girl wants a life of her own and her way out is to find a husband. At almost twenty four years old, her mother is worried that if she doesn’t marry soon, then she will be hopeless. I must admit, I was disappointed—the last thing we should be doing is reinforcing the idea that a woman needs to have a man in order to feel fulfilled. However, as annoyingly immature and self-involved as Melanie can be, I have to give her props. Instead of settling for the proper young man that her family approves of, she follows her heart (or perhaps it is more apt to say that she follows her libido) and runs away with James, an older and mysterious stranger. Predictable, I know. But they do not live happily ever after. After he takes her virginity (as innocent as she is, she is wondering what is going to happen as he lowers himself between her legs), he brings her to New York City and then abandons her. Oh, did I mention that he sticks her with the bill for the hotel? Melanie is devastated, yet, through this, Melanie comes to know herself. We, as readers, begin to worry for her as if she were our own sister. We want to tell her that everything will be ok as she sobs herself to sleep, thinking, “Maybe he had never cared about her at all…she was just a plaything, a diversion, to be tossed aside…the passions of her body tormented and shamed her…she should never be forgiven, never” (154). Simultaneously, we want to yell at her, to make her see how much she is truly worth. But this is something that she, as do we all, has to stumble upon herself.
Though the language is old-fashioned and can sometimes seem strained, it captures Melanie’s primness. Mores so, it is quite fun to then see her juxtaposed against the roaring and inappropriate City That Never Sleeps. The second time she returns to New York City, it is on her own terms. She wants to leave. And she does: “Suddenly, she had a thought. I could take myself away” (169). She goes to follow her dream of being on the stage. As we can expect, she gets a small part in a play and her stardom explodes. We are just lucky enough to see the very beginning of her happiness as well as her rising awareness about how the world works (particularly how women are oppressed) and how she can change it.
Elisa DeCarlo presents a satisfying novel—you feel content when you turn the last page. Everything works out as it is supposed to. We watch Melanie grow into her own woman and we beam with pride as she realizes, “I can’t be like all of the other girls…Maybe years ago, but not anymore. I want to be a free human being” (176). And from Melanie’s bravery, we find the strength to push ourselves, to break away from the shackles of fear that trap us, and to do everything we can to become free.