Gor­geous novel ex­plores adopt­ing a fos­ter child

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Spotlight - BY KIM CUR­TIS

With breath­tak­ing brevity, Rachel Howard’s de­but novel, “The Risk of Us,” il­lu­mi­nates the joys, chal­lenges, fears and frus­tra­tions of adopt­ing a fos­ter child.

And while she delves into the minu­tiae of “the sys­tem” and the difference­s of opin­ion about par­ent­ing styles, her de­cep­tively thin vol­ume is about much more than plung­ing into par­ent­hood.

Howard mas­ter­fully il­lu­mi­nates how par­ent­hood man­ages to bend even the most solid of mar­riages and ex­pose in­se­cu­ri­ties about past re­la­tion­ships, in­clud­ing those from child­hood.

In “The Risk of Us,” the un­named nar­ra­tor and her hus­band, Se­bas­tian, choose 7-year-old Maresa, “a brown-haired grem­lin with arms flung like she could fly off the page” from a binder la­beled “Chil­dren Avail­able.”

They spend the next year learn­ing about Maresa, them­selves and each other as well as the clearly dys­func­tional fos­ter care sys­tem in Cal­i­for­nia.

Howard’s first book was a mem­oir, which isn’t sur­pris­ing given the pages of her novel brim with emo­tion and vul­ner­a­bil­ity. She and her hus­band also are the adop­tive par­ents of a for­mer fos­ter child.

Howard’s writ­ing has a unique rhythm that feels choppy, even disjointed at first, but as the reader ad­justs, her phras­ing and word choices make each page sing. Not a sin­gle word is wasted here. There’s no bloat. Her writ­ing is spare and el­e­gant, yet it beau­ti­fully con­veys in­ten­sity and emo­tional depth.

When the nar­ra­tor comforts her hus­band: “My lamb. Salty wet face, closed eyes. Writhing side to side... And then his chest is heav­ing against my cheek, and the sound we are mak­ing is called a sob.”

When Maresa throws a tantrum: “I am not baf­fled by this scream­ing girl, but my com­pre­hen­sion is no help. She is retch­ing, she is shak­ing, she is spit­ting up bile.”

The only mis­step comes near the end of the novel af­ter what’s called “the day of the po­lice­man” and the par­ents re­con­sider adopt­ing Maresa.

But it’s a small lapse in a sim­ply gor­geous novel.

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