I recently picked up Nell Freudenberger’s new novel, The Newlyweds, unaware it’s a story about only children. (Is she one herself? I wonder.) Amina, the protagonist, is Bangladeshi, the new bride of a Rochester engineer she met online. She is dutiful to her parents (who are a third world mess), with a single-mindedness that could be explained as cultural—or, to some, typically like an only child. The there’s Kim, the groom’s cousin, a yoga instructor who barrels through a rootless life with an desperate need for intimate connection, ultimately to satisfy her own needs, not others’. Another quintessential only, you might say. (Isn’t it interesting how we have such warring types heaped upon us?)
Amina finds she is an outsider both in the States and once she returns “home.” Kim cannot find her place in her adoptive family at “home” or with an Indian husband in Bombay or New York. These women are painted in terms of cultural otherness, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s their onliness just as much as their adoption—new families and new countries—which renders then even more unmoored.
The parents of these onlies fall into line as well: Amina’s are completely enmeshed with her, even from across the globe, dependent upon her for their reputation, their income, their future in America. In person, before she leaves Desh for the States, they share a bed, once she’s gone, they are a constant presence on the phone. Kim’s semi-estranged mother finds her daughter’s globetrotting “torture,” though she openly disdains her.
This trafficking in types–albeit types across a spectrum–kept me distant from characters I think I would have otherwise cleaved to, but am I being too harsh? Have you read The Newlyweds and though about it from an only child perspective? Did it resonate more with you?