A Review Of “Anybody’s Miracle,” A Novel By Laura Hercher, Genetic Counselor

It’s not everyday that a genetic counselor publishes a novel. In fact, I think that has only happened on one day, with the recent publication of Anybody’s Miracle (Herring River Press) by our genetic counseling colleague Laura Hercher.

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Laura is my partner in blogging crime here at The DNA Exchange. One might rightly point my own finger at me and accuse me of a conflict of interest in reviewing a book written by a fellow DNA Ex’er. While this review may amount to a bit of free advertising for Laura, I will not receive a single ha’penny or any other form of compensation from Laura, her publisher, or anybody connected with Laura.

Anybody’s Miracle is about the tangled web we weave once we begin to conceive. The story centers on Robin Hogan, a bright, beautiful Catholic woman whose otherwise wonderful life lacks one thing – children. Unable to conceive naturally, she and her husband suffer through the trials and tribulations of infertility work-ups. After nearly losing her life from ovarian hyperstimulation, she conceives twin boys with the help of IVF, and here the story takes off after a slowish start.  She desperately wishes to conceive another child even though the risks to her health are great. Robin then becomes driven to learn the fate of her frozen embryos, who she thinks of as her children. Robin’s sleuthing  leads to the discovery that one of her embryos resulted in a successful pregnancy for an infertile couple and  she hatches an entirely unethical scheme to learn the couple’s identities. Robin’s becomes obsessed with the child – the daughter she never had! –  and takes to spying on the family and photographing  the girl from a distance.

Just when the going starts to get creepy, the plot twists like a helix when the little girl develops leukemia and requires a bone marrow transplant.  Of course the only compatible donor  turns out to be one of Robin’s twin boys, who is the girl’s genetic brother. Because of poor communication, misconceptions, and Robin’s Hitchcockian obsession with the girl, the two families clash when the girl’s parents not unreasonably believe that Robin will demand they give up their daughter to Robin in exchange for using her son as a bone marrow donor. Lawsuits, meetings with high-profile lawyers who have their own agendas, and media hoopla follow in grand style. The craziness is resolved only with the unwitting help and innocence of a hungry little boy.

Set during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the story plays out against the major events and trends of that era – the dot.com bust, 9/11, cell phones, homosexuality taking its first tentative steps out of the social closet, and parents obsessed with raising their children as if they were organic vegetables. Perhaps the greatest miracle of all – the breaking of the Curse of the Bambino by the  2004 Boston Red Sox – plays a critical symbolic role. The novel explores  several themes near and dear to the hearts of genetic counselors – the conflicts that arise when parenthood is defined by genetic, social, and gestational criteria; the moral and social status of embryos; and how the often deep and profound childbearing urge will push some people to great personal and ethical extremes.

The book is an easy and enjoyable read, and the pacing, though occasionally uneven, will keep you wanting to know what happens next. I thought the ending wrapped things up a bit too neatly and happily. I was also hoping for a larger role for a genetic counselor character (genetic counseling is mentioned very briefly  when an “offstage” GC make what I would describe a bad professional judgment call), but that does not detract from the novel. Anybody’s Miracle arrives just in time for a good summer read for genetic counselors. Maybe if you bring it to the AEC in Anaheim in October, you can get Laura to autograph your copy.

The closest similar achievement by a genetic counselor that I know of was by Anna Phelan, a former genetic counselor who wrote the script for Mask, the 1985 Peter Bogdonavich movie that starred Cher and was based on the life of Rocky Dennis, a young man with craniodiaphyseal dypslasia. Anna went on to contribute to  Gorillas in the Mist,  Girl, Interrupted and other films. There are a number of creative talents in the genetic counseling community – Jon Weil’s intriguing pottery, the photography of  Jean Pfotenhauer and Liane Abrams, to name just a few . Use the Comments section below to tell us of the creative skills of other genetic counselors so we can celebrate the talents of all of our colleagues.

2 Comments

Filed under Robert Resta

2 responses to “A Review Of “Anybody’s Miracle,” A Novel By Laura Hercher, Genetic Counselor

  1. Barb Biesecker

    I can’t wait to read it. Laura writes beautifully! Thanks for the review Bob. Last night I finished the middle school age book, Wonder, about a boy, Auggie Pullman, with Treacher Collins plus. I strongly encourage genetic counselors to read it. My strongest reaction to this book is that I wish a genetic counselor had written it. While it was well rendered by a naive author, RJ Palacio, (her own self description from her website). the complex reactions of family and friends would have had further depth in the hands of a counselor. And the diagnosis would have been less muddled. For some reason the author decided Treacher Collins was not sufficient and so gave Auggie more problems that actually could have been part of the TC diagnosis (needlessly confusing but only to genetics nerds). Seeing life through the experience of a child who scares everyone because of his face is illuminating and can help all of us (fiction or not) empathize more fully with the daily challenges of our patients and their families. As if middle school is not hard enough with facial features relatively intact. The theme of the book in the end is the importance of kindness and how far reaching it can be. I am wondering about whether it would be validating to kids we see who are experiencing something similar or whether fictionalizing their experience may somehow devlaue it.
    After you finish reading Laura’s new book (I have no COI and have not read the book) pick up Wonder. For any of you who write well, please write books like this!! It is a powerful way to convey the aspects of our work, the ways families find courage and adapt to great challenges, to a wide swath of the public. You can have an impact beyond that of your clients.

  2. Shelly Bosworth

    I second Barb’s comments. Thank you for the Summer reading suggestion (and all of your blogs) and I also enjoyed the novel Wonder. I am having my pre-teen read it this Summer too, along with Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, which is very different sci fi perspective on the value our culture places on appearance.
    Another novel by a genetic counselor I recommend is The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It by Ricki Lewis.

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