Rebecca Downer Jacobs is about to be one of the first women admitted into partnership of her prominent New Orleans law firm. She’s happily married with an exciting career, when something happens that’s going to change everything. Meanwhile, Peter, her husband and senior district attorney, is in charge of a complex case with far-reaching legal consequences and moral implications for his Christian faith.
An Accidental Life is billed as the story of a legal case regarding the right to life of a baby accidentally born alive after a late-term abortion (the author calls this America’s best-kept secret). It’s set in 1982, just nine years after the landmark case of Roe vs. Wade legalised abortion, and the tension surrounding the case and the time setting are strengths of the novel.
The weakness is that it takes too long to get going. The prologue and first chapter are, I’m sorry to say, boring. They are little more than five years of backstory, explaining what has happened to Amalise and Rebecca since the conclusion of Chasing the Wind (which was a rare five-star read for me). This backstory is unnecessary, as An Accidental Life works well as a stand-alone story.
An Accidental Life might have been stronger if it focused more on the case and less on the challenges Rebecca and Amalise faced as female lawyers in the early 1980’s. It isn’t that I’m unsympathetic to their challenges—I’m fascinated by them, as it’s women like this in real life that paved the way for women like me to combine work and family. I suspect An Accidental Life was trying to do too much. And it’s possible this is more the fault of the publisher than the author—B&H announced earlier this year that they are withdrawing from the fiction market. It could well be that the author didn’t get the editorial support the novel required.
Despite these problems, An Accidental Life is a solid read. The characters are faced with difficult yet realistic choices, the plot is certainly original, and the Christian element, while present, wasn’t overbearing. And although the last third of the novel—the legal case— was outstanding, the excellent premise didn’t quite deliver as a whole novel.
Thanks to B&H Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Pamela Binnings Ewen at her website.